Friday, July 27, 2012

Gongura = Ambadi!

For the longest time, I knew Gongura as the leafy green from Andhra (a south Indian state). Reddy aunty, our neighbor and family friend in NY, used to make this wonderful tangy chutney with it to go with one of her many delicious rice preparations. The Indian store here carries Gongura pretty often but I never ventured into trying it. I finally bought a couple of bunches yesterday and started looking for recipes to make that chutney. Leave the chutney aside, what do I find?? Gongura is the same vegetable we Maharashtrians love and call Ambadi! Once I got over the fact that I didn't know Gongura was my most loved Ambadi, I picked up the phone and called mom to express my joy. Mom goes, "Of course, I knew it. Don't you remember I made ambadichi bhaji in NY a few times?". I don't know why, but I don't recall it at all. The Ambadi we get in Maharashtra doesn't have stems as red as the Andhra variety, but tastes exactly the same. Sour, tangy leaves that remind you of the taste of tamarind.

Ambadi is a popular leafy vegetable, especially in the southern part of the state where I come from. The leaves are cooked thoroughly so that they get gargatta, or almost mashed. Then they are tempered with the most fragrant combination of garlic and red chilies. There are no powdered spices, garlic providing most of the flavor and smokiness. A little bit of jaggery balances the sourness of the greens perfectly. People from my hometown Kolhapur tend to use jaggery much more than sugar since it's a prime sugarcane producer.  Ambadichi bhaji with some bhakri, raw onion, garlic chutney or spicy thecha is my kind of comfort food. It's a regular lunch combination of the farmers in Maharashtra too. All the ingredients are dry enough that they can be wrapped up in a piece of cloth and carried to the farms without worrying about containers or spills. I don't have to worry about any of that, but I could eat Ambadichi bhaji every day if I had to!

Ambadichi Bhaji

2 Bunches Ambadi or Gongura
Fistful of rice, toor daal and chana daal combined
1 Small piece of jaggery (~1 teaspoon grated jaggery)
3 Tablespoons oil
1/2 Teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 Teaspoon cumin seeds
5-6 Garlic cloves - smashed and chopped into chunky pieces
3-4 Dry red chilies
1/4 Teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste

  • Discard the stems of ambadi and wash the leaves well.
  • Wash the rice, toor daal and chana daal. This is just to add some body and bite to the bhaji. A fistful of the combination is enough. Take a little more of rice than the daals. 
  • Pressure cook the leaves, rice and the daals with 3-4 whistled until soft. Discard the water that it's cooked in so it takes away some sourness out of the leaves making them more palatable.
  • In a kadhai, heat oil, add mustard and cumin seeds and let them splutter. Add garlic and fry it until golden brown. Garlic smells heavenly when fried like this and adds a lot of flavor to the bhaji. Add dry red chilies cut in half and turmeric powder at the end so they don't burn.
  • Add about a tablespoon of this tempering to the cooked leaves, add jaggery and season with salt and cook for a couple of minutes, mashing with the back of your spoon.
  • While serving, pour some of that extra garlic tempering over the bhaji and enjoy with bhakari or rice. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Celebrating Shravan

Friday marked the first day of the Hindu calendar month Shravan. Shravan brings with it heavy monsoons after torturous summer heat, and the dry, deprived earth gets blanketed in lush greenery. As oceans swell and become dangerous with the onslaught of monsoon, fishing activity slows down. Everyone practices vegetarianism and gets ready to celebrate the changes in the surroundings that monsoon brings with it. Shravan is considered a holy month and probably has the most number of Hindu festivals. Many fast on Mondays to please Lord Shiva; newly married women in Maharashtra worship the Shivalinga on Tuesdays for their husband's well-being.

Shravan was my favorite time of the year for the number of school holidays we had. The days we did go to school were spent attending prayers, celebrations, and waiting for lunch breaks to attack each other’s tiffin boxes stuffed with goodies our moms prepared all through the month. We were distracted by the colorful clothes and jewelry on 'civil dress days'. Not that we didn’t dress civilly otherwise, but my school excused us from wearing school uniform every Monday and Friday of the month.  

At home, we were treated to a number of sweets and other special preparations in Shravan. My aaji (grandma) observed every fast religiously which she broke around sunset with some satvik food and sweets. Mom and the two of us sisters never fasted, but we relished the food nonetheless. Mom made fragrant ghee out of freshly churned butter to make the sweets decadent or simply poured it over warm sabudana khichadi. Among the many delicacies, Sanjyachi Poli stands out as one of my favorites. Sanja - sooji or semolina sweetened with jaggery - is stuffed inside whole wheat dough to make flaky, buttery, melt-in-the-mouth rotis, or poli as we call it. We Marathi people love our sweet rotis, like Puran poli, Gulachi poli or Khavyachi poli. Sanja poli is simpler to make compared to the others as the stuffing is not difficult to work with. It's not overwhelmingly sweet either. Some people make the stuffing with sugar, but I swear by jaggery. And as weird as this may sound, Sanjyachi poli tastes amazing with some spicy Maharashtrian style mango pickle! If you don't want to try that combination, enjoy it with some ghee or warm milk. 

**Note: The recipe below makes about 10-12 rotis depending on how big you make them. 

I'm submitting this recipe to the Celebrate Event by Jagruti, hosted by Sangeetha this month to celebrate the month of Shravan. 

Sanjyachi Poli/ Sooji Roti

1/2 Cup Rava/Semolina
2 Tablespoons ghee/clarified butter
3/4 Cup grated jaggery
3/4 Cup water + more if needed
5-6 Cardamom pods - powdered
Couple of pinches saffron
Pinch of salt

Poli dough:
~ 1 3/4 Cups whole wheat flour
Water to knead the dough
1 Teaspoon oil
Pinch of salt
  • First, knead the dough with just enough water so you have a soft dough ball. It should be slightly softer than the usual roti dough so you can roll it with light pressure. This will ensure the stuffing doesn't get pressed out. Cover dough and keep aside. 
To make sanja
  • Add ghee to a kadhai and roast semolina on low-medium heat till it gets a reddish hue. It'll be very fragrant when roasted well. Make sure you don't over-roast it. Keep aside. 
  • Cook jaggery with water to help it melt, then add the roasted semolina, cardamom powder, saffron and a pinch of salt and cook down until the semolina is soft. Add a little warm water and cook down if the sanja is not cooked through. The stuffing should not be watery or else you'll have a hard time rolling rotis. 
  • Take a golf ball size dough and stuff sanja the size of a lime. The more stuffing you have the better. Roll the rotis gently making the sides thinner than the center. Apply a little ghee to each side while roasting. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Celebrating Ice-Cream!

Did you know it was National Ice-Cream day today? How cool is that?? I discovered just today that the third Sunday every July is dedicated to this frozen dessert we all love and adore. Here are some fun facts for you. I made some ice-cream to celebrate this day (duh!). The kind of ice-cream I grew up eating - simple and elegant flavors with all natural ingredients. No corn syrup, corn starch, milk powder or hydrogenated oil. Milk, cream, sugar and natural flavors - that's all you need to make some good ice-cream. 

I chose two of my favorite ingredients for flavoring - Kesar (saffron) and Ilaichi (cardamom). These two ingredients are ubiquitous in Indian desserts, providing sweet aroma and richness. I love the floral notes and touch of golden orange color saffron adds. My sister works for a food distributing company and gets me some of the best saffron available. Cardamom takes any dessert to a whole new level. I always make fresh cardamom powder from pods. Good quality ingredients make a world of a difference. A little bit of vanilla essence elevated those wonderful flavors in the ice-cream.

Creamy Kesar-Ilaichi ice-cream is India in a dessert bowl. This ice-cream is great by itself, fantastic with some warm gajar halwa or gulab jamun or goes great with some mango pulp, even better fresh mango. 

Kesar Ilaichi (Saffron Cardamom) Ice-Cream

2 Cups whipping cream
2 Cups milk
3/4 - 1 Cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
1 Teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2 Teaspoon saffron strands
1/2 Teaspoon vanilla essence
Chopped fruits for garnishing - pistachio or almonds

  • Warm 3-4 tablespoon of milk in the microwave. Add the saffron strands to warm milk to extract color and flavor. 
  • Now mix all the ingredients together, including the saffron milk and whisk it until the mixture is frothy and aerated. If using a hand mixy, whip it on low for about a minute. 
  • Chill the mixture for about an hour then churn in an ice-cream maker. 
  • When serving, garnish with some chopped dry fruits. Alternatively, you can add them to your ice-cream while making it. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Citrus Salad

Cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, crafting, reading and studying. That's a Saturday well spent. In between all the chores (and a big scoop of Fro-Yo), I totally skipped my lunch yesterday. When the hunger finally hit, I threw together a quick salad for..umm..Luncher(Lunch cum Dinner=?) or Linner! Salad was the perfect choice for a meal on a hot day like the one we had yesterday.

I talked about this deh-licious salad my friend made for Thanksgiving dinner. I love love love fruits in salads, which you can tell from herehere and here. I didn't have the original dressing recipe, but I knew all the important ingredients that made up the salad. It wasn't really meant to end up on the blog. The salad was so darn tasty though, that I couldn't resist posting the recipe (hence the crappy photography). This citrus-goat cheese salad with honey dressing is just perfect for a summer afternoon. The goat cheese gives it plenty of creaminess and slight pungent earthiness. And what can be more refreshing than citrus? I used tangerines - perfectly citrusy, easy to peel and separate the wedges, and full of bursting juices. The dressing comprising of two ingredients altogether couldn't have been simpler. 

Citrus-Goat Cheese Salad with Honey Dressing

To make this 'too simple to post a step-by-step recipe' salad, simply toss together chopped lettuce mix (Italian salad mix is the best), tangerine wedges cut in half and crumbled goat cheese. For the dressing, whisk together honey and red wine vinegar in almost equal parts (a little less vinegar than the honey, adjust the flavor to your liking), salt & pepper for seasoning and drizzle over the salad. 

With as little as 3 main ingredients, you have a salad bursting with flavors, textures and colors. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bookmark Thursday

Thursdays are usually 'throw something together and rush out the door' kinda dinner nights for us. I have a dance class every Thursday evening (pursuing a long time dream of learning Kathak :) and I don't get much time to cook anything. Hubby helps himself to some leftovers (if he's really hungry) or waits for me to come back and put anything that's available in the fridge in between two slices of bread and call it a sandwich. After almost 5 months, I was home this Thursday. Bonus time! It was a perfect opportunity to go down some of the bookmarked recipes and try 'em out. 

I had been eyeing these glorious Masala Buns posted by one of my favorite bloggers, US Masala. For a while, it seemed like every other blogger was making buns of some sort and I was the only one missing out. A few days back I came across Sangeetha's blog through her HITS event and saw another recipe for stuffed buns. The recipe looked too tempting not to give it a shot.

Masala buns are simple buns stuffed with some kind of curried vegetable filling. They looked very intimidating to me at first, but except for the fact that you have to wait, the recipe turned out to be quite simple. The fun part is, you stuff the buns before they bake. So as you pull a morsel of a fluffy, soft bun, there's a tasty treat inside! Sangeetha had stuffed the buns with spicy cauliflower, which I'm sure would've tasted great. But I went with a more predictable filling - veggies cooked with Paav-bhaji masala. To make the buns a little 'Indian', should I say, I added toasted cumin seeds to the dough. Aromatic, pillowy buns stuffed with paav-bhaji like bhaji. Tell me you won't like that!

Masala Bun 

1 1/2 Cups All purpose flour
1/4 Cup warm water
1/4 oz. Dry active yeast packet
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1/2 Teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
3 tbspn EVOO + as needed

1 Tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 Large / 2 medium boiled potatoes
1 Small tomato
1/2 Medium onioin
1/2 Cup mixed veggies - I used peas and bell peppers only
2 Garlic cloves - minced
1/2 Inch ginger - minced
1 1/2 Teaspoons paav-bhaji masala
1 Teaspoon Red chili powder
Salt to taste

Dough for the buns:
  • Mix yeast, sugar and warm water and let it stand until the mixture gets foamy (~10 mins). Sangeetha mixed the yeast with the flour itself, but I figured getting the yeast acting would be faster and better. 
  • Add flour, salt, EVOO. Bruise the cumin seeds on your palm using the thumb slightly to get all the fragrant oils out and add them to the dough. Knead well using a little bit of water as need to form a stiff but soft dough. The original recipe used milk instead of water, I just took the easy way. 
  • Cover the dough with a damp towel and keep in a warm place for ~45mins to an hour so to rise. While you are waiting, start working on your stuffing. 
  • Once the dough almost doubles in size, punch it gently and knead again for a few mins. 
  • Divide the dough in 6 parts and shape them round. Keep on a greased aluminum foil on baking sheet. Let them stand for another 10 mins or so. The dough will rise again slightly.
  • Chop all the veggies finely. Mash the potatoes. 
  • Heat oil in a pan and add cumin seeds. Once they splutter, add ginger-garlic, onions and tomatoes and saute until the onions are translucent. 
  • Add spices, rest of the veggies, salt and cook for 10 mins or until the mixture comes together well. If it becomes too dry, add a little bit of water. Adjust the spices according to your liking. 
Put it together:
  • Make a dent in each of the dough balls to form a cup-like shape. Stuff them with a golf-ball size vegetable filling and pinch the dough together to close the dough balls. 
  • Brush them with some OO and let them stand for another 10 mins. 
  • Bake for 15-18 mins on 375F or until the buns turn golden brown. 
  • To serve, brush the buns with a little bit of garlic butter or OO. 
If you have some stuffing leftover - make a sandwich :D.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


It's been a while since I was home alone being a couch potato, only my needle and yarn to accompany me. Mom and dad left yesterday to continue their trip at my sister's, leaving a huge void in my house. I'm quite thankful for the wonderful time we spent together though, and it consoles me that they are just across the country as opposed to the globe! Now that it's back to just the two of us, I won't need to cook as much. For now, I'll update you on all the happenings in the last few days.

No butter baked goodie - I had wondered how applesauce worked in baked goodies all this while. After a successful trial, I'm convinced of the power of apple! I baked an eggless yogurt cake for mom and dad before they left, using this easy recipe. I cut the recipe in half, used only 1 tbsp of sugar instead (for mom) and (apprehensively) substituted oil with applesauce. Boy, was I sweetly surprised at the end product?! The cake was moist, fluffy and tasty. I would recommend adding some fruits or berries to the cake though since it's pretty one tone. Mom and dad gave two thumbs up.

Float fun - I stay away from sodas; not just for health reasons but I don't like the taste at all. Ice-cream floats though are a different story though. Creamy vanilla ice-cream dunked in fizzy root beer is the ultimate summer dream. We got my dad hooked onto root beer floats while he was here. If you haven't tried them or haven't had them in a while, do revisit soon =D.

Feeling peachy - Take a look at the velvety peaches we've plucked from the tree recently! we snacked on a few juicy fruits and saved some for a tart, maybe.

Anjeer Barfi - Everyone who visits our house 'oohs' and 'aahs' over the giant anjeers (figs) in the backyard. My sister and bro-in-law love figs and asked us to save some for them. I don't know what the status will be when they visits us in fall, but I wanted to surprise them with some fig goodness. I made fresh Anjeer Barfi (a sweet made from figs) and sent with my parents. Bro-in-law only saved a little bite for my sister, but I heard they loved the barfi. I used a pretty standard method to make it:

Anjeer Barfi

3 Large figs (all the ripe figs on the tree)
1 Teaspoon ghee/ clarified butter
2 Tablespoons chopped dry fruits + more for garnishing
3 Teaspoons sugar
1/4 Teaspoon cardamom powder

  • Puree figs in the food processor. If you don't have fresh figs, use twice as many dry figs - reconstitute them in warm water and puree. 
  • In a pan, heat ghee on low-medium and roast the dry fuits for 10-15 secs. They don't need to turn color. I used almonds as that was the only dry fruit I had on hand, but you can use cashews and pistachios as well. Add the fig puree, sugar and cardamom powder and cook on medium for 10 mins or so until most of the moisture evaporates and the mixture separates from the pan in one ball. It's important that you get rid of the water content. 
  • Grease a plate with ghee or line it with parchment paper/aluminum foil and spread the mixture and pat it to 1/2 inch thickness. Spread some chopped dry fruit on top and press gently into the barfi. Stick it in the fridge to cool and thicken. 
  • I made a big round barfi to send it. You can cut small 1 inch cubes. 

Babies and batwas - My BF recently delivered a beautiful baby girl (yay for her), and my cousin is expecting her second bundle of joy - a girl too - very soon! I crocheted two cute little headbands for both of them. One inspired by this simple but beautiful design, and another with a pretty little flower. The second one has reached its destination already and the mommy was simply thrilled about the handmade gift :). On my recent trip to Michael's, hubby picked this rainbow of a yarn ball for me, and I crocheted a simple batwa (pouch) with a pattern I created myself. Take a look. I'm tackling this new design now. 


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