Apr 21, 2011

Business of being busy and an easy okra stir fry

This week has been busier than usual for me. Since it is Easter this Friday, the kid’s school had an Easter egg hunt on Monday. For the uninitiated, the hunt involves each kid carrying about a dozen candy filled plastic eggs to school and handing them over to the teacher. The teacher collects all the eggs, scatters them in the playground and lets the kids loose to hunt for a dozen eggs. One hopes that the kid doesn’t come back with the same eggs he turned in the first place. I ended up filling up two dozen of the multicolored ovals, because the kid got invited to a friend’s backyard Easter egg hunt the very next day.
 Eggs, eggs and more eggs.

Maybe it’s just me, but the last thing a five year old needs is two dozen candy filled eggs. Thankfully, my kid cares only for the occasional bouncy ball that may find its way in one of the eggs. The candy, he just dumps out or shares it with his friends.
If two Easter egg hunts weren’t exciting enough, we finally finished staining and filling up the 6x6 sandbox that he finished building last week. It had been sitting empty for almost a week before our good neighbors helped us haul 33 bags of sand back home. After an hour of hauling and emptying the 50 lb bags, the sandbox was full, the kid was happy and we were exhausted.
Yes, it is as big as it looks! (6X6)
No dinner was cooked that day. We had some eggs and bread, the kid a rava bhakri, which will be a post for another day. Today, after another exhausting day of dentist appointment, bathroom cleaning and carting the kid to and fro from school, the dinner was simple. The kid had dosas with leftover dal from the morning. He got a vegetable Panini for me from his office canteen which I had with some guacamole that he made and a few asparagus that I stir fried on the skillet.

For him, I made bhendi chi kurkurit bhaji (stir fried crispy okra). I say for him, because I have never liked the slimy vegetable, even though it turns crunchy and not-at-all-slimy when cooked to a crisp on slow to medium flame. But he likes it, so every so often I will pick up a bunch of okra for him. He likes it with a little bit more oil than usual and with lots of caramelized onions. So that’s how I make it.

Bhendi, Bhindi, Okra, ladyfinger. A cross-section of the slimy veggie

Do you see a pattern here that I mentioned in my last post, about doing things for each other? Though I have to admit, cooking okra this way is ridiculously simple, with just red chili powder and salt to spice it up. However, I am told that the sweetness of the caramelized onions and the crisp bite of the okra is a divine combination. My brother and sister swear by it and so does my better half. So, I give you bhendi chi kurkurit bhaji, which loosely translates to crispy stir fried okra.
I do have a few tips at the end of the post to get the crisp okra that is so desired but so easy to mess up into a slimy sludge. So do read them carefully before you go chopping and stirring some okra and onions in your pan.
Bhendichi Kurkurit Bhaji
1-2 tblsps oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chili powder
1 cups of chopped onion, preferably red
2 cups of okra, cut into thin circles or slim stripes
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a wide pan and add the mustard seeds. As they start to sputter, lower the heat, add the turmeric powder and stir. Quickly add the red chili powder and the chopped onions, followed by the okra.
Our goal here is to minimize stirring in order to prevent possible sliminess that may occur. Sprinkle salt to taste, gently stir everything and cook uncovered on medium low flame for 20-25 minutes or till cooked through and crispy. Stir in between as needed. Serve with chappatis, dal and rice.

Try to stir the okra as little as possible. The more you stir, the slimier it will get.
Do not and I repeat, Do Not, cover the pan at any stage of cooking the okra. It will get slimy.
Try to use a pan with a bigger surface area so as not to crowd the okra and subsequently steam it. The less crowded it is, the less slimy it will be.
Don’t put any water or liquids of any sort in the pan.

Apr 15, 2011

Made for each other – Lauki and Chana

This post was waiting to be written for the last few days and not the least because I am hosting MLAA-34. As a host, it would be rude of me not to cook a legume based dish. Yet, every time I sat down to write, some distraction would occupy me before I had to call it a night. Yesterday, it was this rant of Sandeepa over at Bong Mom's Cookbook. She took the words out of my mouth when she questioned why women swoon over a husband who does simple chores around the house and call the woman he is married to lucky.

As one of those “lucky woman” I can tell you, my better half does do a lot around the house, from making the weekly vegetable stock, to making the daily morning tea, unloading the dishwasher and cooking the  occasional risotto. But he does the chores around the house for the same reasons I do the rest of the drudge work and duties of a chauffeur, teacher and entertainer for our five year old. It is a marriage and a partnership where everyone pitches in to the best of their abilities.
As a gesture of appreciation for all that I do around the house, he tries to keep the work stations clean and dishes to a minimum when he cooks. I, on the other hand, cook his favorite vegetables, as and when it suits my fancy. Like lauki (bottle gourd) cooked with chana dal, which incidentally is also my favorite way of eating this bland vegetable. I like my chana to have a bite to it but since he likes his mushy, I make a concession for him and pressure cook the concoction to his liking. I do draw the line at his mom’s bhakri which is a thick tortilla made with stiff dough of whole wheat flour mixed with turmeric, red chili powder and plenty of oil. It takes a lot of muscle to roll out those delicious rounds of dough and after one try, I decided I did not care much for making them.
Bottle Gourd

Lauki, dudhi, bottlegourd.

The lauki chana dal sabzi, on the other hand, is quick, almost fool proof and is a “made-for-each-other-combo”. At least that is what I wrote when Manisha put up her photo of lauki dal on Facebook and my comment got an instant ‘like’ for it. So Susan, here is, hopefully, the first of my at least two submissions to your brilliant event.

Lauki Chana Dal

4 cups of lauki , peeled and cut into bite size chunks
1/4 cup chana dal, soaked in water for at least 2-3 hours
1 small tomato, cut into chunks
1/2 vegetable stock or water

For tadka or tempering:
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp asafetida
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced fine
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp dhana-jeera (cumin coriander) powder
1 tsp garam masala or sabzi masala
Pinch of sugar
Salt to taste

Heat 1/2 tbsp of oil in a 3 or 4ltr pressure cooker. Add the cumin seeds, asafetida and minced garlic. Turn down the heat so the garlic cooks and softens but does not burn. Add the turmeric; stir it till the raw smell turns fragrant.
Drain the water from the chana dal and toss it in the garlic, cumin, and turmeric infused oil. Add a dash of salt, stir, and let cook for two minutes. Add the red chili powder, dhana-jeera and garam masal. Stir and add the chopped tomatoes. Cover and cook on medium heat till the tomatoes get mushy.

Bottle Gourd

Cross section of dudhi/ lauki/ bottlegourd.
Courtesy: Indianfoodrocks
Add the chopped lauki, salt to taste, mix everything gently. Add the vegetable stock and bring everything to a gentle boil. Put on the lid and pressure cook for one whistle.
Wait for the pressure to subside, transfer the dal lauki to a serving bowl, garnish with coriander and serve with rotis.
Note: The spice proportions are what work for me. However, lauki being a bland vegetable as well of varying sizes, feel free to add more of the red chili or garam masala if you like it spicier. The above proportions are for the big lauki I had, which yielded four cups chopped.

If, for some reason, you do not own a pressure cooker, cook the lauki and chana dal in a lidded pot. Cook till the chana dal is tender and the lauki is cooked through.

A reader of mine in India once wrote to me that she found my baingan bharta bland because she followed the exact spice proportion in the recipe. I will reiterate what I told her, “Taste buds in our family are somewhat dulled from living in the US. Always go with your normal proportion and gut when adding spices and/or heat to any recipe on this blog, unless stated otherwise.” So, go ahead, don’t hesitate before adding that extra pinch of garam masala.

Apr 3, 2011

For the love of cricket and legume

As I write this post, sitting in my usual place on the couch, directly in front of the TV, within easy reach of the remote and the side table, the India-Sri Lanka World Cup finals is on. Sri Lanka is batting at 199-5 with 7 overs to go. I have cut my Saturday morning class, not because I am a cricket fanatic but because it seems the right thing to do.

It also seems fit then to write this post after another long hiatus. Back in the days, when I was blogging regularly, there was nothing I wanted to do more than host Susan’s My Legume Love Affair. A year and some months ago when I emailed her with my request, she told me the only spot she had was for April of 2011. It seemed a long way off back then. Susan assured me of time’s flying abilities and she was right. 
The last six months or so have been busier for me with a growing kid who has a busier social life than us and my own busy schedule. I do miss blogging, especially when I see a post or a recipe I have been wanting to blog about. Or when I cook something different from the usual fare and the family likes it, like Siri’s  brown rice bisibelebath. When I received Susan’s email, asking me if I still wanted to host MLAA, I couldn’t let it pass.

As if that wasn't motivation enough, Aqua @servedwithlove tweeted to @WSeasonedCook: "Oh good, at least hosting MLLA got her to post something on her blog after ages @Desisoccermom."  It is hard to let down a blogger buddy’s sweat sarcasm support. So here I am, announcing the ever popular MLAA - 34, which is the brilliant creation of Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook.
If you are not familiar with the event or new to the blogging world, MLAA is all about entrees where the star ingredient is a legume, bean, pea or pod, basically anything that constitutes as a legume. Before I bullet the official rules, please read what constitutes a legume for your recipe to qualify and refer to it before you decide to dash off an entry. Other than that, a little bit of imagination, a cup or half of legumes, a few spices and a pressure cooker is all you need to enter for the prizes listed down under.

Legume: For the purpose of this event, legumes include fresh or dried beans, lentils, pulses, and/or the sometimes edible pods that contain these seeds, and derivative products like tofu or besan (chickpea flour). According to Susan you can include recipes that use tamarind, fenugreek, carob, peanuts, etc. since they are among some of the other edible plants in the legume family and thus ARE included in the event.

Please note and this is important, a spoonful of legume in a recipe is not quite enough to qualify. If you send in a recipe that does not actually feature legumes, but reference them as an auxiliary ingredient, I will be forced to reject the entry. Remember, MLLA is all about the affair with the legume. It is only fair to your fellow participants that you respect the rules as well. So make sure your recipe includes a fair to liberal amount of legumes in it.

The rules are as follows:

1. All courses and cultures are welcome as well as non-vegetarian entries as long as they have a substantial amount of legumes.

2. Multiple recipes are permitted although only one submission will be counted towards the random drawings. Important note: Multiple recipes are limited to no more than 10. So, please do not send me all the collective legume recipes from your blog. I repeat, limit them to ten.

3. Recipes submitted to other events are also permitted.

4. Recipes from archives will be accepted ONLY if updated and reposted as current.

5. Don’t have a blog, no worries. You are still eligible to win a prize if you send an entry.

6. I do need to know the location of participants so I will know who qualifies to win both or one of the prizes. If you don’t want your location published, that’s ok. Just send it to me in an email so I can make sure you are eligible for the draw.

7. Use of the above logo is optional but Susan’s MLLA logos are so beautiful I cannot imagine why one wouldn’t want to add it to their post.

8. A photo with the entry is preferred, but not essential. Please do try to resize your photos to 200 by 300.

9. Make sure to link your post to this announcement as well as to this link to Susan’s host line-up.

10. The last date for sending your entry/ees is May 3. I will try to post the round-up by end of first week of May. Send your entree here or jayawagle@gmail.com.

For following all of the above rules, to the best of your abilities, here’s what you can win when selected by the random draw:

1) Winner chooses any cookbook or food-related book from Amazon U.S. valued at not more than 15USD for the book itself. This prize is offered by Susan at her expense and she will also absorb worldwide shipping charges. F.T.C. Notice: Susan does not receive any compensation from Amazon.

2) Hurst Bean Box - A case of six bags of the winner's choice of Hurst Bean products, suitable for every diet, sponsored by Hurst Bean. (Due to shipping restrictions, this prize can only be awarded if the winner is a U.S. resident.) F.T.C. Notice: In May 2010, Susan, at her request, received two Hurst Bean complimentary products which are not available for purchase in her local markets. Susan does not generally accept free products from Hurst Bean nor is she financially compensated by them.

3) Drawing Structure - If the winner is a U.S. resident, she/he will be the recipient of both Prizes 1 and 2 above. In the event that an international winner is drawn, a second drawing will be conducted from the U.S. pool of entrants to ensure that the Hurst Prize is awarded every month. In these instances, the international winner will receive the book, and the U.S. winner will receive the Hurst Prize.

As I finish this post and prepare to upload it, India has won the World Cup and I am exhausted from celebrating with friends all day long. We reached home dog tired a little before midnight and I decided to upload the post before hitting the bed. So I hope you will understand if there are any grammatical errors or typos.

Now, go ahead and start posting those entrees.

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