Thursday, May 05, 2016

Golden Adai

I am the biggest fan of Southern Indian cuisine, and following right after the Kerala stew post is this recipe for adai, a member of the dosa family. Adai is made with a mixture of various lentils and rice and not fermented.

This recipe was my starting point.

Soak: In the morning around 8 AM, right before I left for work, I rinsed thoroughly and soaked

  • 1/2 cup rice (I used sona masoori)
  • 3/4 cup whole skinned (white) urad dal
  • 3/4 cup chana dal
  • 3/4 cup toor dal

Grind: Around 5 PM, I blended the soaked ingredients in the Vitamix in two batches. Any powerful blender or mixie or wet grinder will work to make this batter. The Vitamix did the job effortlessly in seconds, resulting in a thick and smooth batter. While grinding, I added a few curry leaves to add flavor, and in the spirit of using up every bit of food, I added some pickled mangoes (the ones left behind in the jar when all the pickle juice was used up). They added an interesting tangy flavor too. Finally, I stirred some salt into the batter.

Make adai: Heat a griddle and use some oil to make adai; the batter can be spread as thin or thick as you like.


These proportions of rice and lentils made a substantial amount of batter, it lasted us a couple of meals and then I had it a few more times for breakfast.

The adai is good plain, made just with the batter alone. The next day I added a chopped bunch of beet greens to the batter, which worked beautifully. Ginger, onions, shredded veggies and greens, spices like cumin seeds would all be wonderful additions to the basic batter.

I'm completely pleased at how easy is to make adai, particularly on a day when I'm short on dinner ideas or low on groceries. As long as I can pull out a few dals and soak them in the morning, a good dinner is guaranteed.

A couple more additions to the Vitamix page: nut butter and nut butter chocolate chia pudding.

What are you cooking this week? 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kerala-Style Stew

A major highlight of this month was a week-long visit by my sister and nephew. The little guy is only a few months younger than Lila and they had a great time playing, squabbling, snacking and napping together and making the rounds of every playground in town.

One afternoon my sister cooked ishtu (stew), a recipe she learned from her Malayali friend. You simply cook vegetables, add coconut milk and finish off with a fragrant tempering.

  • Start with about 8 cups of mixed vegetables. We raided the kitchen and fridge and used diced potato, cauliflower, summer squash, carrots, and also used two veggies from the freezer- peas and cut Italian beans (these are larger and flatter than regular green beans).
  • Add enough water to cover the vegetables, add minced ginger, cut green chillies and salt to taste, and boil until the veggies are just tender. We used a pressure cooker without the weight- simply using it as a tightly closed pot to get the vegetables to cook evenly and faster. 
  • Drain out excess water from the tender veggies- and store it for use in another soup or dal or curry.
  • To the cooked vegetables, add a can of coconut milk. Bring to a gentle simmer for a few minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat 1 tbsp. coconut oil. Make a tempering with mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves and add it to the curry. You're done! 
This stew is a great example of the cuisine of the Southern Indian state of Kerala- simple, fresh and flavorful. We served it with some freshly steamed rice and pickle on the side. I ate it in a big bowl as a stew with just a bit of rice, and a handful of potato chips to add crunch. An excellent meal! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Vitamix Diaries

With a milestone anniversary and my birthday both coming up in April, V sweetly asked me if I had anything in particular on my wish list. Before I realized it, I heard myself blurting out "Vitamix". And so for the last couple of weeks, I have on the kitchen counter the blender of my dreams. One doesn't think of a blender as a particularly romantic gift, but in this case, money did in fact buy happiness (and many great meals.)

A Vitamix is one of those heavy-duty, high-performance, expensive blenders- a biggie as far as kitchen upgrades go. My tools and gadgets are well-loved and cared for, and they certainly get a workout in my busy kitchen. As years go by, they pay for themselves many times over. I'm still using the Braun immersion blender that I bought with my first grad student paycheck 15 years ago, ditto the food processor I bought with wedding gift money from my aunt and uncle a decade ago. I wear thrift store clothes and drive a cranky old car but save my pennies for top of the line cookware and get emotionally attached to my kitchen appliances. Priorities :)

There are many brands of high-powered blenders out there, but I didn't do much research and headed straight for the Vitamix simply because I've used it a few times when I taught cooking classes and was familiar with it. I did buy a certified refurbished blender to bring down the cost a little- and am glad I did. It looks and feels brand new.

Of course I've been busy playing with my new toy. The very first evening it was delivered, I gave it a rinse and made an apple pie smoothie for dessert- just a blend of almond milk, a handful of oats, apple (skin on and all), a dash of maple syrup and cinnamon, and ice.

Since then, I've used the blender almost every single day. With the days getting warmer, we love making iced coffee frappe in the afternoons. For two servings, I use about 1/2 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup almond milk, 3 tsp. sugar (or other sweetener; adjust to taste), 1 tbsp. instant coffee (adjust to taste) and a cup or so of crushed ice.

It blends into an amazingly refreshing drink in a few seconds. V is a big coffee snob with his shade grown Honduran coffee beans that he grinds fresh every morning and all that jazz, but he also admits to loving this frappe made with apna good old freeze-dried Nescafe.


Soups are probably the biggest reason I bought this blender- it makes them smooth as silk, as luxurious as what you find in fancy restaurants.

My standard no-recipe formula for vegetable soups-

  • saute onions and garlic in olive oil or butter
  • add a bit of flour to make a roux
  • add some milk/cream for richness
  • then lots of vegetables and water/stock, salt and pepper
  • simmer until tender
  • blend until silky smooth

This works for (a) corn and mixed veggies, (b) tomato-carrot, (c) broccoli, (d) spinach, (e) mushroom, (f) zucchini, among others. Inexpensive frozen broccoli and spinach work just as well as fresh vegetables. For broccoli, spinach, mushroom and zucchini, I use nutritional yeast to add a wonderful umami taste to the soup. This blender can actually cook soup as it blends- but I haven't tried doing that yet.

I've also used the Vitamix in some Indian cooking- it made a very smooth cilantro-coconut chutney and tomato-coconut-onion curry paste.

The blender came with a manual- called, with gravitas, "Introduction to High-Performance Blending". There are a great many things in there to try, and I've come to love the wet-chopping method, in which you add great big chunks of vegetables (say, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots) to the blender along with water and pulse it, then drain the water away to be left with finely chopped veggies in seconds. Pretty nifty. I used it to grate cauliflower and carrots to make these savory samosa-like tarts.

As I keep testing recipes with the Vitamix, I'll keep updating this post- that way, folks who have access to high powered blenders can refer to it if interested. And if you own one of these powerful beasts, I'd love to know what you like using it for.

May 4, 2015
Nut butter: I blended (pressing down with the tamper) 1 cup roasted cashews, 1 cup roasted almonds with a bit of salt and a couple of tablespoons of canola oil- it made a wonderful nut butter. V enjoyed it on good bread with a drizzle of nice honey. Can't wait to try more customized nut butters.

It is hard to scrape every bit of nut butter from the blender so it is a good idea to use it immediately for another recipe that needs nuts or nut butter (like a smoothie, or curry paste).



Instead of cleaning out the blender, I left a bit of the nut butter in and tried this recipe for chocolate nut chia pudding- it was very easy to blend, I poured it into small stemless wine glasses and chilled it for dessert, then served it with some sliced strawberries. I thought it tasted OK- very filling, not too sweet, a tad gummy. Not sure I'll be making this again.






May 5, 2016: Golden Adai, a cousin of the dosa


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Cauliflower "Rice" Pulao

When you eat a vegetarian diet with a carb-conscious slant, vegetables become your very best friends. I can continue to eat my beloved rice, noodle and pasta based dishes by bulking them out with vegetables.

Pulaos are a regular part of the meal rotation around here- both for quick weeknight meals and as a crowd-pleasing side dish when friends come over for supper. The difference is that these days rice has to share the spotlight in pulao and fried rice. In every case, I've found that tweaking the rice-based recipe with extra vegetables does in no way spoil the experience of eating that quintessential comfort food. The spices and seasonings make it taste just the way I've always loved it.

Cauliflower florets have always been a delicious addition to many rice dishes like masale bhaat and vegetable biryani, but lately I've also been using cauliflower in its trendy avatar of cauliflower "rice" which is nothing but cauliflower florets that are finely grated to a fluffy, rice-like (or maybe cous-cous like) texture. Trendy or not, it is certainly a simple, practical and tasty way to fill out rice dishes.

This weekend, I found large, beautiful heads of cauliflower on sale and bought three to convert to "rice" and freeze away- yes, raw cauliflower "rice" freezes beautifully and it is very convenient to process it all at once and have a stack of boxes in the freezer ready to be cooked.

The food processor does a quick and tidy job of turning cauliflower florets to "rice".
  • Cut cauliflower into chunky florets.
  • Rinse them well and drain/spin/pat them dry.
  • Place a few florets in food processor bowl fitted with a metal chopping blade.
  • Process until most of the florets turn to rice- be careful not to over-process to mush.
  • Remove the unprocessed chunks- they can be chopped again with the next batch. 
  • Repeat until all florets are riced.
  • The "rice" can be cooked right away or stored in airtight boxes or bags in the freezer.

Some people serve cauliflower rice raw in tabbouleh-like salads but I have yet to try that. And rather than make a dish of sautéed cauliflower "rice" by itself, I prefer mixing it with steamed Jasmine-or-other rice- it fits in with my general scheme of not cutting out grains altogether but just eating less of them at every meal. Because the cauliflower "rice" blends in so well with cooked rice, it will work in just about any rice dish from any cuisine.

This time, I made a simple pulao to serve with whole masoor amti and raita.
  • Heat oil in a pan.
  • Temper with cumin seeds.
  • Saute 1 medium thinly sliced onion until nicely browned.
  • Season with salt, turmeric powder and pulao masala (or other favorite spice mix).
  • Add cooked rice (about 1.5 cups) and cauliflower "rice" (about 3 cups) and stir fry for a minute. 
  • Cover and steam cook for 8-10 minutes.
  • Drizzle with ghee and lemon juice (optional) and serve!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spring is Here

It has been a whirlwind month (and some) since my last post. We had a big meeting at work that just ended yesterday, and it took a lot of time and mental space. At the end of a long day, much as I want to update the blog, I just can't face flipping open the laptop- I need a break from the computer screen and the keyboard. Ironically, I tend to veg out in front of another screen- the TV- this month, my favorite show of all time, M*A*S*H, is leaving Netflix streaming so that's what I just finished (re-re)watching.

But Spring has sprung and the entire town is awash in delicate blossoms and tender leaves, which gladdens my heart even as it gives me itchy allergy eyes. The switch to Daylight Savings Time means that there's still light outside as I sit here after the dinner and dishes routine, and today it motivated me to flip open the laptop after all.

We took a long weekend off in early March and went to a beautiful state park. I won't call it "camping" though. Glamping is what it was. We shared a very well-equipped cottage in the park with friends. Each family toted some food and we took turns rustling up simple meals. We lit bonfires and fired up the charcoal grill. My favorite camping dish was the foil-wrapped potatoes that we cooked directly in the bonfire, then split open and dressed with salt, pepper and butter. Between the open air meals, hiking, and gorgeous waterfalls, this was a nice escape from the routine. Like the public libraries, the state parks in this country are precious gifts that I enjoy gratefully.


Spring cleaning and decluttering has been on my mind. For several weeks, I've been taking on mini-projects in the kitchen, going through every drawer and every shelf, 20 minutes at a time. I empty out the space, wipe it down and examine every object to see if it is useful and functional before putting things back. My goal is to know exactly what I have in my kitchen, and to use it well.

Two boxes of kitchen items ended up at the thrift store. The tongs that I found unwieldy, that aspirational baguette pan, the twee serving pieces that never got used- they will all have to find new homes.

It is not just a question of getting rid of things but in some cases, getting better versions of things that I use all the time. Like the two cheap plastic colanders that I bought 15 years ago- I replaced them with sturdy stainless steel ones that are much nicer to use.

My "big" kitchen project was a pantry remodel. We have a small closet in the family room (next to the kitchen) that I use as a pantry- but it was dingy and dark, with deep shelves where pantry items were never easy to organize and find. One of my neighbors retired from the construction business and takes on woodworking and other handy jobs to keep himself busy. I hired him to remodel the closet, changing the deep shelves to wrap around shelving like this blogger did. He was able to take the old shelves out, split them and paint them and reuse them as the new shelves. We had paint cans left behind by the previous homeowners, and found white paint for the shelves and pale grey paint for the closet walls. The whole project was finished over 2 days, using materials we already had on hand, with the only costs being labor costs that went straight to my nice neighbor. That worked out well.

I still don't have electrical wiring for a closet light, but we put in a motion-sensor battery-operated light, and now the pantry is a whole lot more functional. Having a well-stocked and organized pantry makes it easier to put together quick meals, and minimizes waste because food doesn't languish at the back of a shelf.

I'll leave you with a quick pic of our dinner tonight: tacos with asparagus (sautéed quickly in olive oil, seasoned with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice) and a cucumber avocado salad- this was a recipe I saw here on Smitten Kitchen, and for something so simple, it is a surprisingly tasty and refreshing salad that we'll make often.


Happy Spring! How have you been?!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Dumpling Party

My Chinese American friend grew up celebrating the Lunar New Year in Queens, NY, and she misses those festivities in small town GA. This year she invited her family and friends to gather at her home for a potluck dumpling party to ring in the Year of the Monkey.

Of, the table simply overflowed with tasty dumplings from different cuisines.

The hosts made tofu-vegetable potstickers with a salty-sweet-gingery dipping sauce, and kimbap, Korean rice and seaweed rolls (brief recipe at the end of this post).

I wondered what to take. The various Indian cuisines have dozens of dishes that qualify as dumplings and I love them all- from karanjis to kachoris. In the end I went with two of my own favorites (that are also easy to make)- idli with cilantro- coconut chutney, and "faux-mosas" or samosa-style puffs made with frozen puff pastry.

I've been slowly working towards making the soft, melt-in-the-mouth idlis of my dreams and this batch turned out beautifully. You pick up tips here and there and get better every time, I feel. This time I used this tip for grinding soaked methi seeds on their own just before adding in the urad dal, and this tip for adding water to the batter- I realize now that I had not been adding enough water while making the batter. People dream of running ultramarathons and climbing Mt. Everest. Me, I dream of consistently making idlis that taste like clouds. With this batch, I feel like I turned a corner.


For the puffs, I wanted to make the standard filling of potato, cauliflower, peas and carrots seasoned with ginger and garlic, and then realized that I had no potatoes on hand. I cooked some cauliflower and mashed it and used that as the base of the filling, and it worked very well. The only thing to keep in mind is to not let the filling get soggy.

There was lots of filling left over and it made for great masala dosas over the next couple of days.


The other dishes at the party were- a piping hot vegetarian version of chicken and dumpling soup, filo dough dumplings with two different fillings- some with sweet potato and others with feta and spinach, and fusion "taco dumplings" with black beans and Mexican spices.

For dessert, cookies and candy were passed around, and the kids all got red envelopes with cash tucked inside, as per tradition. In the end, we were a bunch of happily stuffed people who not so secretly hope that our friend will make this party an annual tradition.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sukuma Wiki (Kenyan Greens) and My Favorite Breakfast

When I had a chance to spend a few weeks in Kenya last May, one of the local foods that I really enjoyed eating was a dish of greens called sukuma wiki- I mentioned this dish several times in that post. 

Sukuma wiki uses the local greens (colewart) and it is in the spirit of the dish to adapt it to any greens that are locally and cheaply available. In my case, it was kale bought on sale at the supermarket. It is flavored quite simply- like all the everyday Kenyan food I tasted- with onions and tomatoes, and salt. Nothing more. 



Here is my not-really-a-recipe recipe for sukuma wiki. I use my cast iron skillet for this.

1. Wash, trim and shred or finely chop a heap of greens
2. Heat 1 tbsp. oil.

3. Saute 1 medium chopped onion and 1 medium chopped tomato for a few minutes. 
4. Season with salt and pepper
5. Add greens and stir fry.
6. Cover and cook for a few minutes until the greens are tender. 

I resist the temptation to add turmeric, chili powder, cumin and so on to this dish. Not that it would be a bad thing to turn this into a typical pale bhaji. But the simplest form brings back memories of being in the African market and buying big handfuls of shredded greens from the kanga-clad vegetable sellers, and of helping my colleague stir a pot of sukuma on the tiny stove in his bachelor kitchen. 

Sukuma wiki goes with everything. It is nice to make a batch and keep on hand in the fridge, then use it in different dishes and as a side-dish for various meals. Rice and lentils are the classic companions for this dish, but we've eaten it with everything from instant noodles to spaghetti sauce. 

My favorite way is to eat it for breakfast like this: Heat a small tortilla on a griddle (I like low-carb tortillas from Trader Joe's). Top with some mashed avocado, hot sauce, a heap of sukuma wiki and a fried egg. Fold over and enjoy the breakfast wrap. What a perfect way to start the day. 

I eat a lot of avocados. I used to get very frustrated buying avocados because half of them would turn out to to be brown and unusable on the inside. Then I discovered this life-changing tip. It really works. Now I peek under the stem of the avocado at the store and only buy the ones that look green under the stem, then a couple of days on the counter and they are ready to eat (and will last in the fridge for several days if you want to wait). Now I have near-perfect avocados; the one in the pic below had a tiny brown spot but the rest was creamy green avocado. 

* * *
Over winter break, I was looking to sink my teeth into a juicy new mystery series, and remembered that someone had mentioned Elizabeth George- the author of the Inspector Lynley novels. I vaguely recall seeing a few episodes of the televised series on PBS years ago but had not read the books. I read the first two novels in the series and the writing is terrific. A Great Deliverance (Inspector Lynley, #1) which was a suspenseful and engrossing read but the ending was very disturbing. Payment in Blood (Inspector Lynley, #2) was a formula mystery- a theater production team in a remote castle is snowed in, there is a murder, one of them had to have done it and so on. I look forward to reading more of this series- have you read them?

Another interesting read was the very recently published Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris. V and I are avid fans of the New Yorker magazine; Norris has worked for the magazine for decades as a copy editor. The book is part memoir, part rantings and ravings of a grammar stickler, with lots of meditation on the quirks of the English language. As a kid, I loved reading Wren and Martin (a high school English grammar textbook)- not that you would know that from reading this poorly-proofread blog. Word lovers and grammar nerds will enjoy this book.  My favorite quote from the book: "Job of copy editor is to spell words right: put hyphen in, take hyphen out. Repeat. Respect other meaning of spell: spell writer weaves".

My favorite book this month was a work of non-fiction- A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It is a large, highly engaging tome on the art and science of giving- on sharing money and time with local and global organizations to benefit our communities. Kristof and WuDunn present dozens of case studies of people and projects that help those in need- their successes, failures and challenges. They address complex issues- such as about overhead expenses and staff salaries in non-profits. Many of us are searching for a more meaningful life and this optimistic book provides encouragement and advice on how to make a difference. 

Oh and you must treat yourself to these two delightful, hilarious, warm and beautifully written essays-

Auld Lang Syne, Kamini Dandapani's memories of her paternal grandparents' home, featuring "the strangest cast of characters, a terrifying bathroom and a belligerent buffalo named Lakshmi". 

Saapaadu Ready, Janani Sreenivasan's memories of travels with her mother's South Indian kitchen. "Take the best from all cultures. That's the best way of living I've found".

What have you been reading, cooking and eating these days? Happy February!