Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Of White & Gold

The first day of college, I entered my class with visible nervousness, and saw her reassuring face smiling at me. It was comforting to see someone giving a friendly smile in an unfamiliar place. Only I didn't know then that P and I would go on to form a strong bond of friendship that was to last all these years and many more to come. P, my BF from college, and I shared some of the best times as classmates and later as roommates in college. While I lived away from my family, I sought the love and comfort of her home. P's loving family quickly accepted me as one of them. I spent holidays at her house, had silly slumber parties, took over the basement to practice for our dance shows, celebrated many festivals there, and most of all, enjoyed home cooked food!

P is a Keralite, or Mallu, as known popularly. It was at her house that I first had a taste of Kerala cuisine. Rich with generous use of coconut, spiced with red and green chilies and scented with curry leaves, Kerala food is full of bold flavors. Every visit to P's house was filled with a delicious breakfast of dosa and a lavish lunch spread of red matta rice, beet-root or cabbage pachadi, dry veggie fry called Thoran, rich and creamy aviyal curry with a side of inji curry (ginger pickle) or chammanthi (chutney) to spice it all up. I was treated to payasam on special occasions. Imagine that all that exotic food for a college student who survived on all sorts of rice preparations. Enjoying those delicacies with the sweetest family one can have made it all the more special. 

Today, on the occasion of Onam, I cooked two of my favorite dishes. Onam is an important festival in Kerala, almost like diwali. Women dress up in the traditional white and gold settu sarees, wear jasmine garlands in their hair, adorn the door fronts with athapoo (rangoli made with flower petals), and get together for thiruvathirakali dance. The most exciting part of the celebration is the elaborate feast called Sadya. It's some serious food business! Imagine a large banana leaf filled corner to corner with one delicious dish after another.

I prepared aviyal and spinach thoran today. Aviyal is a kurma like preparation made with many different root vegetables, beans, squash and raw bananas. You can throw in anything you like, as long as the vegetables are firm and don't get watery when cooked. Thoran is any dry vegetable stir fry. I used to love thoran made with beans. Today, I tried it using spinach since I already used beans in the aviyal. Neither of these dishes use overpowering spices. They are extremely fragrant and flavorful with the use of curry leaves, coconut, shallots and chilies. Husband had never tried Kerala food. All I can say is, he is converted now :).


2 1/2 Cups chopped vegetables - a mix of potatoes, pumpkin, green beans, carrots and eggplant
Curry leaves from one spring
2 Small green chilies - slit lengthwise in the center
1/4 Cup grated coconut
2 Shallots
1 Teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 Cup yogurt
1/4 Teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Red chili powder to taste
Water as needed

  • Chop vegetables into 1 inch long pieces. You can use a variety of gourds, beans and squash or yams. Make sure you choose vegetables that are firm and won't get watery when cooked. 
  • Add the vegetables, curry leaves, green chilies, turmeric powder and a little bit of water enough to cook veggies to a pot and cook until the vegetables are tender. 
  • On the side, grind the coconut, shallots and cumin seeds coarsely in a food processor. 
  • Add the coconut mixture to the veggies, mix well and cook for a couple of minutes. 
  • Add yogurt at the end, salt and red chili powder to taste, water if necessary and simmer for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and it's ready to serve.

Spinach Thoran

2 Cups packed finely chopped spinach
2 Heaping tablespoons of grated coconut
1 Large shallot
1 Green chili
1 Large garlic clove - chopped
Curry leaves from one spring
2 Dry red chilies
1/2 Teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 Teaspoon turmeric powder
2 Teaspoons oil
Salt to taste

  • Grind coconut, shallot and green chili coarsely and keep aside. 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds and let them splutter. 
  • Add chopped garlic, curry leaves, red chilies and turmeric powder, and saute until fragrant. 
  • Add the coconut mixture and chopped spinach, salt to taste and cook stirring regularly. 

Serve the thoran and aviyal with some long grain rice or pooris with a side of pickle and papad.

I'm submitting these recipes to the South Indian Cooking Event started by Anu.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Blog Hopping

The blogging community has opened up a world of culinary possibilites. I bookmark about a dozen recipes every day and at least try to use an interesting technique, a new ingredient or get inspiration from them even if I can't go through them all. There are way too many awesome recipes to try and way too many great cooks to get to know for one lifetime. But the first blogger I came across about 5 years back while looking for Imperial Cold Drink House, and quickly realized the popularity of, was Nupur of One Hot Stove. Nupur is hugely popular in the blogging community, and it is very well deserved. She always has some delicious recipes and useful tips for her readers. And there are few who can write as beautifully as she does.

Her latest post talks about the mighty machines in our kitchen - food processors. It made me fall in love with the Ronald food processor my parents gifted me all over again. I can't thank this little helper of mine enough for making my life easier. I use it to knead dough when I have a large group of people to feed, make soups, chutneys, idly-dosa batters and a zillion other things. It was time to show it some love by making Nupur's red bell pepper pesto. What a fantastic recipe! I have used roasted red bell peppers in wraps, hummus, eggplant dips etc., but have never tried pesto with it. Coincidentally, I had also picked up a bunch of red bell peppers on sale from Sprouts the other day. Nupur's post came at the right time. With whatever substitutable ingredients on my hand, I made the pesto today. There was a fresh spring of basil in the garden - totally meant for pesto. The only nuts available in my pantry were almonds. They don't have an overpowering taste and blended in just perfectly. Husbby is raving about this pesto and I'm really pleased with the outcome as well. I'll surely be making this for a potluck or a party!

Updated image : I made this pesto without tomato and I think I like this better. 
Roasted Bell Pepper - Basil Pesto

2 Large red bell peppers - roasted, peeled and seeded
1/2 Tomato (optional)
2 Garlic cloves
1/2 Cup almonds (you can also use a mix of almonds and cashews)
Basil - handful of leaves
1 Teaspoon paprika or to taste
Salt to taste

  • Roast bell peppers using the technique I've mentioned here. Or simply use the bottled ones.
  • Grind all the ingredients into a fine pesto. I omitted olive oil completely. The pesto tasted just perfect without it, but go ahead and add it if you like the taste. I didn't have any jalapeno. Paprika was a good substitute for smoky heat. 

We enjoyed the pesto with some chips. I'll probably be spreading the leftovers over a slice of bread tomorrow. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

First Zucchini!

Finally, after fighting last year's luck and some persistent slugs, my zucchini plant has yielded its first fruit. As I mentioned earlier, I knew exactly what I was going to make with the first zucchini. Hubs and I have become huge fans of this simple recipe to make zucchini fries/chips. The original inspiration was a recipe by Veggie by Season. I had tried it in my egg-aversion days and had replaced egg with some yogurt to help the breadcrumbs stick. Sadly, I ended up with a product far from being crunchy. The yogurt made it a soggy mess. Ever since, I have resorted to the good ol', comparatively healthy technique of shallow frying. I also switched to panko bread crumbs instead of the regular ones since they provide a lot more crunch. Some tweaking to the original seasoning of simple salt and pepper makes this version quite flavorful. Today we enjoyed the chips as appetizers for dinner. One zucchini was just enough to get us started on the rest of the courses. 

The picture came out sad, only because I was too hungry to spent time on photography!
Zucchini Fries/Chips

1 Zucchini
1/2 Cup yogurt - whisked
3/4 Cup panko  bread crumbs
Paprika to taste
Dash of garlic powder
Salt to taste
Oil spray/oil

  • Cut zucchini in about 1/8 inch thick disks. Don't make it too thin. 
  • Whisk some yogurt (with a few drops of water if needed) so that it's smooth. Season it with paprika, salt and a dash of garlic powder. 
  • Take the bread crumbs in a plate and season them with paprika, salt and garlic powder as well. Seasoning yogurt as well as the bread crumbs will make these chips flavorful throughout. 
  • Dip the zucchini in yogurt, then press into the bread crumbs on both sides and fry in a pan using oil spray. If you don't have oil spray, simply spread some oil on the pan. Fry on both sides until golden brown. 

You can enjoy these chips with some ranch or another creamy dip, but they taste just perfect by themselves. 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...