Idli

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Idli needs no introduction to Indians. This signature breakfast item from South India has a devoted following all over India. It’s no exaggeration to say that Idlis are responsible for providing morning nutrition to about 200 million people everyday in the four southern states of India.

There are many ways to enjoy idlis. North Indians would swear by the idli-sambhar combo. I like them hot with a drizzle of ghee on top and some coconut chutney. Some people eat it with chutney powder. However you eat it, it’s good. Seriously, there is no breakfast like idli-chutney. It’s my favorite, followed closely by plain rava uppittu.

Idlis look like a very uncomplicated food. A batter made from rice and urad dal and then steamed into round, flat balls. No frying to be done, no spices to be added, no vegetables to be cut. As simple as this sounds, getting them soft and fluffy requires practice and attention to small details. There have been probably as many experiments conducted to get the idlis right as the number of stars in the sky but once you learn it, it becomes as easy as 1-2-3.

If you like idlis and would like to learn how to make them, I think this recipe will help. I have also given here the exact amount of water to be added to batter while grinding. This will help in getting the right consistency batter. The cup measure is as per the American standard (slightly smaller than a coffee mug)

1/2 cup Par boiled Rice (I use Ponni brand rice)
1/2 cup raw/regular rice
1/2  cup whole Urad Dal without the black skin
1/4 cup poha/puffed rice
1.5 tea spoon salt
Idli stand
A pot big and deep enough to hold the idli stand

Parboiled rice is rice that has been boiled in husk. It is more shiny and nutritious than regular rice and helps make idlis soft and spongy.

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1. Soak the rice and urad dal separately in 4-5 cups of water for about 3 hours.
2. When ready to grind, add poha to the soaked rice.
3. Drain off all water from urad dal. Grind the urad dal until it is very soft and fluffy. You will need to add about 1 cup of water while grinding. When you feel the paste, it should have no grainy texture.
4. Drain off all water from rice. Grind rice along with poha/puffed rice in a grinder/mixer until almost smooth. You will need about 3/4 cup of water. The paste will feel just slightly coarse when you rub it between fingers.
5. Pour the ground rice and urad dal into a big pot and add 1.5 tea spoon of salt and mix the batter with your hand until salt is properly incorporated into the batter.
6. Cover the pot with a lid and put it away in a warm place for at least 12 hours. Here in California, I put it in oven and turn the oven light on. This works really well to ferment the batter. On a really cold day, I cover the pot with a big bath towel and then put it in the oven.
7. Once the batter is fermented, without stirring the batter, put a small ladleful of batter into each idli plate.
8. Bring 4-5 cups of water to boil in a pot big and deep enough to hold the idli stand. Once the water starts boiling, put the Idli stand in pot cover it with a lid and steam for about 7-8 minutes. Shut off the stove and remove the idli stand after 4-5 minutes.
9. Remove each plate from the idli stand, turn it upside down and let it run under water. Run a sharp edge spoon or spatula around the edge of the idli and scoop it out in a circular motion. Keep it in a container with a lid.

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Bendekayi/Bhindi/Okra Gojju

Bendekayi/Okra/Bhindi Gojju

Bendekayi/Okra/Bhindi Gojju

Gojju, Huli, thokku, thovve, kootu… not exactly pleasant or attractive names, but don’t let their names turn you away from making or eating these dishes. In my teenage years I discriminated against them purely because of the way they sounded. Now things are different. My palate has evolved, rather matured, I am very open to different things and have come to love and appreciate these traditional gems.

One of them is the Gojju from Karnataka. It really is a concoction in the sense that many ingredients go into making the paste, which is the main part of the dish. This spicy paste, when boiled with a vegetable, tamarind juice and jaggery makes your roti or rice just come alive. I am blogging this recipe with my North-Indian and Gujarati friends in mind. A lot of them love the taste of South Indian curries and I think they will like this recipe. Apart from providing a new and different way to include more vegetables in your diet, these tasty concoctions bring a nice variety to a meal and enhance the overall enjoyment of your thali.

No hard and fast rule on which vegetable to use for gojju but some popular ones are eggplant (baigan/brinjal), onion, bitter melon (karela/haagalkayi), okra (bhindi/lady fingers), and green onions. Generally only one vegetable is used. In all cases, the vegetable is cut into medium size pieces and shallow fried in very little oil until it is almost cooked. I prefer the gojju to have a slightly sweet taste. If you don’t, put a little less jaggery.

2 cups okra/bhindi cut into medium size pieces

½ cup fresh grated coconut (little more or less ok)

2-inch diameter ball of tamarind

1 table spoon jaggery/gud

¼ tea spoon turmeric/haldi

1 cup water to add to the gravy

For masala paste:

½ tea spoon fenugreek seeds/methi seeds

½ tea spoon mustard seeds

½ tea spoon sesame seeds/til/yellu

1 tea spoon jeera

1 tea spoon chana dal

7-8 dry red chilies or a combination of green and red chilies

1. Cut okra into about 1 inch pieces.

2. Soak tamarind in ¼ cup warm water for a few minutes. Crush the tamarind softly with your fingers  and  extract juice. Throw away the pulp.

3. Heat 1 table spoon oil, and do a vaghar/tadka with ¼ tea spoon mustard seeds.

4. Add cut bhindi pieces and turmeric and cook on medium-low heat.

5. On the side, fry all the ingredients for masala powder in ½ tea spoon ghee or oil for about 3 minutes.

6. Grind the fried masala along with fresh coconut to a fine paste by adding about ¼ to ½ cup of water.

7. When bhindi is almost cooked, add tamarind water and cook for 2-3 more minutes.

8. Add the masala paste, jaggery and salt to the Bhindi and bring everything to boil.

9. Add about ½ cup to 1 cup water to make the gravy a little less thick. Boil for another 3-4 minutes and  shut off the stove.  Gojju will thicken slightly after it cools down.

Pesarattu (green moong dal dosa)

When I went to my friend Annapurna’s home last year, she treated me to a plate of hot, straight-from-the-tava pesarattu, a popular breakfast item from Andhra Pradesh. It was absolutely delicious. The sweet and spicy chutney she had made, perfectly complemented the earthy taste of moong and rice. I had never made pesarattu nor this tomato-peanut chutney. Eating it right at my Andhra friend’s kitchen was a delightful experience.

If you have never made Pesarattu, I urge you to try it for a weekend brunch. It is nutritious and tasty. Green moong dal is packed with protein in its raw form, an essential part of a vegetarian diet. How often do we eat that? And if you are making pesarattu, why not make this chutney also? It is one of the best chutneys I have had and I think pesarattu tastes better with this chutney than even ginger pickle, pesarattu’s traditional accompaniment. Pesarattu is overall, an uncomplicated dosa. The batter doesn’t have to have that superfine texture and doesn’t require any fermentation. All you need is a few basic ingredients and a tava/griddle.

Here is Pesarattu and Tomato-peanut chutney recipes with many thanks to my friend Annapurna.

2 cups split green moong dal with husk (picture shown)

¼ cup rice (Rice makes it a bit taut and crispy)

1.5 tea spoon cumin seeds/jeera

¾ tea spoon salt

½ tea spoon grated ginger

2-3 small green chilies, chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

A few tea spoons ghee or oil

2 table spoons chopped cilantro/hara dhaniya/leela dhaNa

Note: I sprinkled chopped onions on the Pesarattu as soon as the batter was spread on the tava.This works if everyone doesn’t want onions. If you are going to use onions on all the pessarttus, I suggest that you chop the onions very finely and mix it with the pesarattu batter itself.

To make the batter:

Wash moong dal and rice together with water and soak in 4-5 cups of water for about 3 hours. Drain all the water and add chopped green chilies, ginger and salt. Grind the mixture until it is almost smooth, i.e. leave it a bit coarse. You will need to add about 1 cup of water while grinding the mixture. Add 2 table spoons of chopped cilantro and mix well. The batter should have the pouring consistency similar to that of dosa.

To make the pesarattus:

Heat the griddle/tave on high heat and then reduce the heat to medium-high. Take a ladleful of batter and spread it thin on the tava like a dosa. Immediately sprinkle a table spoon of chopped onion on the pesarattu. Put a few drops of oil or ghee along the edge of the Pesarattu. After about 30 seconds, fold the pesarattu in half and eat with a chutney of your choice.

Tomato-peanut chutney

3 medium size tomatoes cut into big pieces

2 table spoon roated peanuts

6-8 green chilies

tamarind water or ¼ tea spoon tamarind paste

(To make tamarind water, soak a small lemon size ball of tamarind in 1/4 cup of water for a few minutes, softly crush it with your fingers and extract the water. Throw away the pulp.)

1 table spoon cumin seeds/jeera

a few curry leaves/mitho limdo

1 inch piece jaggery/gud/goL

1 tea spoon salt

For vaghar: 1 tea spoon of oil, ½ tea spoon mustard seeds, ½ tea spoon urad dal, 2 red chilies and a few curry leaves.

  1. Heat 1 tea spoon oil in a small pan and do a tadka/vaghar with cumin seeds, green chilies and curry leaves.
  2. Add chopped tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are mushy (about 8 minutes). Let the mixture cool a bit.
  3. Grind tomatoes along with salt, jaggery and peanuts into a slightly coarse paste.
  4. Empty the paste into a bowl.

Heat oil in a small pan and do a tadka/vaghar with mustard seeds, urad dal (optional), red chilies, and a few curry leaves. Pour this vaghar on chutney.

Maddur vade

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The South Indian state of Karnataka has a very rich variety of snacks. Chakli, Kodubale, Nippattu, Ambode, Khara sev, Khara boondi, Puff, numerous types of Bondas, Bajjis, Vadas… and the list goes on and on. Each region within the state has interesting variations in food and reputation for a special dish. Mysuru for its masala dosa, Mangalore for its bonda, Dharvad for its peda and of course Maddur for its famous maddur vade. Maddur is a bustling town located between Mysuru and Bengaluru. I have passed through this town by train quite a few times on my way to mysuru, where my parents live. As the train approached Maddur, passengers would bestir themselves and eagerly await (many with exact change in their hands) the Maddur vade seller to buy these tasty round fritters. If I remember correctly, the train didn’t stop here for too long, may be about 5 minutes, but in this short amount of time, some agile hawkers would cover every compartment of this long train collecting money and handing out maddur vade packets. The short stop also left no room for price negotiations. Judging by this train station activity, it would seem that Maddur vade is this town’s biggest export and a major source of revenue!

Maddur Vade is made of rice flour, maida, sooji, onions and chilies. Rice flour and red chilies play a prominent role in lending a crispy, pungent and fiery taste to Maddur vade. It does require some attention to detail to make sure it has the right amount of crispiness and texture. It’s a chili-hogger too. I used almost half a cup each of green chilies and red chilies to get that proper “khara” taste. To keep it fresh and crispy, you need a really good air-tight container. But then, they are so tasty that before you find that container in your kitchen, they will be gone…

1 cup maida/plain all purpose flour

1 ¼ cup rice flour/akki hittu

½ cup roasted sooji/semolina/ravo

1/3 cup peanuts roughly chopped (pieces shouldn’t be too small)

15 whole red chilies (cut them in half if they are too long)

1/3 cup hot green chilies chopped into small pieces

1 table spoon curry leaves/mitho limdo/kadhi patta (about 25 leaves)

1 large onion

1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil to mix in the dough

3-4 cups peanut or vegetable oil for frying

1.5 tea spoon salt

  1. In a big bowl properly mix rice flour, maida, and salt.
  2. Cut onion lengthwise into long thin strips and add it to the flour mix.
  3. Roast sooji/semolina well for about 10 minutes.  Let it cool down a bit and then add it to the flour mix.
  4. Heat ½ cup oil. Add peanuts and red chilies and fry for about 2 minutes on low heat.
  5. Add green chilies and curry leaves to oil and immediately take it off the stove. Let the oil cool a bit and then pour it on the flour mix. If you add very hot oil to the mix, maddur vade might turn out to be too flaky and crumbly so it’s important to let the oil cool down a bit.
  6. Mix everything into a very stiff dough by using only 2-3 table spoon of water. At first, it will be difficult to form a dough. As you keep kneading, the juice from onion will help. If you need to add water, immerse your fingers in a bowl of water and then knead the dough until it is stiff instead of randomly pouring water on the flour mix.
  7. pull out a small amount of dough and make a ball. Put the ball between your palms and press hard. Or, put a ball of dough on a flat surface and press on top of it with your palm. Make patties like this of about 4 inch diameter on a cutting board or any flat surface.
  8. Heat about 3 cups of oil in a frying pan. When the oil is hot, deep fry the patties (about 5-6 at a time) making sure that they remain golden yellow in color and not brown. Keep the heat/flame setting to medium. Flip the patties 2-3 times. Each frying round will take about 6-7 minutes.
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To keep Maddur vade fresh and crispy for a few more days, allow them to cool completely after frying and then store them in an air-tight container.

Tomato-Tamarind Rasam

It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato

~Lewis Grizzard

This zesty tomato-tamarind rasam is thanks to my friends Kiran and Ranjit. Last weekend they dropped in for the evening and brought a bag of luscious homegrown tomatoes. What a nice surprise! I love tomatoes. As I was putting the bag in the fridge, somewhere at the back of my mind I tucked in a thought that I was going to make tomato-tamarind rasam out of them.

This rasam is generally had as an appetizer and what an appetizer it is! Unlike some other appetizers/soups which are heavy and tend to make you full, this rasam is light, warm, full of flavor and will surely satisfy your taste buds. Doctors and health magazines say tomatoes are rich in Vitamins A, C, B-Complex, potassium, flavonoids, and have anti-carcinogenic properties. They also seems to have this thing called Lycopene which supposedly keeps you young and all that. Well, all this sounds really good so keep eating tomatoes!

Tomato-Tamarind Rasam

Zesty tomato-tamarind rasam: thanks to Kiran and Ranjit

6 medium size tomatoes

fresh tamarind/imli  (1 x 1 inch)

1/3 tea spoon rasam powder

1/4 tea spoon crushed black pepper

jaggery/gud/goL (1 x 1 inch)

1.5 teaspoon salt

1 sprig curry leaves/kadhi patta/mitho limdo

1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves/cilantro/hara dhaniya

For vaghar: 1 tsp butter/ghee, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, 2 whole red chilies

1. Blend the tomatoes in a blender with 1 cup of water and strain the liquid. Boil the strained tomato juice over medium heat for about 7-8 minutes.

2. Soak tamarind in 1/4 cup of water for a few minutes, softly crush it with your fingers and extract the water and strain the liquid. Now Add the tamarind water, rasam powder, ground black pepper and jaggery to the boiling tomato juice. Boil for 5 minutes.

3. Add salt, curry leaves and 2 cups of water. Boil for 5 more minutes on medium heat.

4. Heat ghee/butter and do a  vaghar/tadka of mustard seeds, and whole red chilies. Finally, sprinkle chopped coriander leaves/cilantro on rasam.

I chopped curry leaves/kadhi patta in small pieces but I think it’s better to put just whole leaves. Also, If you don’t like cumin seeds/jeera, or mustard seeds in your rasam, you can skip them.

Ribbon Pakora – Spicy Ribbons

Spicy Ribbons - Ready to watch Olympics now...

Lately we are spending a lot of time in front of T.V. watching the Olympics. With enough company and exciting olympic events, there’s always that need to snack on something so I decided to make Ribbon pakoras. It wasn’t an ideal day to spend an hour in front of the hot stove but once you decide that you gotta have it, you gotta make it.

Quite popular in Tamil nadu, Ribbon pakoras are crispy and spicy fritters albeit without any vegetable. They are made by mixing flours and spices and deep fried using a special implement which comes with small round disks, as in a cookie cutter, each with a different design. This one implement generally serves well for making many kinds of fried snacks such as Chakli, Murukku, Sev etc.

2 cups rice flour

1 cup besan/chick pea flour/chana no loat

1/3 cup melted, unsalted butter

2 tea spoons red chili powder

1/4 tea spoon hing/asafoetida

1 table spoon til/sesame seeds

1.5 tea spoon salt (if using salted butter, reduce the quantity by 1/4 tea spoon)

4 cups oil to deep fry (peanut or vegetable)

Any kitchen press/Murukku maker with a ribbon disk (picture below)

In a big bowl, mix everything except butter with a big spoon. Add melted butter and mix well again. Pour water all over the mix and make a dough using your hand. You will have to knead it for about 5 minutes to make it soft.

In a frying pan/kadhai, heat 4 cups of oil. When the oil is hot, using the Murukku maker, make small rounds (about 5 inches in diameter) of ribbons. Keeping the heat to medium, fry for about 1 minute on both sides.

Dosa

Plate of Masala Dosa - A classic South Indian fare

Plate of Masala Dosa – A classic South Indian fare

If you come to my home on a weekend, there’s a 50% chance you will be treated to a plate of Masala Dosa. I make enough to last 2 days, usually finishing it off by making onion dosas out of the leftover batter. I grew up eating dosas as an after-school snack. I remember my mother making dosa batter using a huge stone mortar and pestle. That must have been a hard task considering it was a family of 6. Then we got the Sumeet mixie and it soon replaced the manual method.

It is difficult to resist a crispy Dosa. Of the 100 different types of dosas that you can make, masala dosa holds a special appeal for everyone. It’s probably because of the sumptuous accompaniments it comes with; spicy potato curry, coconut chutney and that bowl of tangy sambar making a wholesome, satisfying meal. Having enjoyed great-tasting dosas all my life, it was difficult to replicate the same taste here in california. After experimenting with different varieties of rice and the rice-urad dal ratio, I found a happy note in the following recipe.

1 cup ponni parboiled rice

Half cup ponni raw rice

1/2 cup urad dal

1 tea spoon methi/fenugreek seeds

1 tea spoon chana dal

Wash the dal, rice, and methi together under running water a few times. Soak in 8 cups of water for approx. 8 hours. Grind the grains mixture in a grinder until absolutely smooth. This is best tested by rubbing some batter between your fingers. Empty the batter into a big stock pot, cover it and keep it away for at least 10-12 hours. This step is to ensure proper fermentation of the batter. I keep the pot in the oven and turn the light on irrespective of the weather. After about 12 hours, you will see that the batter has risen by about 2-3 inches from its original level.  At this point, you are ready to make dosas.

To make dosas:

Use a big (10” is OK, 12″ is ideal) griddle/tava. Non-stick is good.

Fill a big ladle with the batter and pour it in the center of a hot tava/griddle and spread it out in a circular fashion until it covers up pretty much all of the griddle. Immediately spread a tea spoon of ghee/melted butter/oil along the edge of the dosa. Keep the tava hot during the entire time. After about 15 seconds, flip the dosa and keep it on the tava/griddle for another 10 seconds or so.

Serve with potato curry, coconut chuntey and optinally, a bowl of onion sambhar.