Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#228 Happy Onam! Vella Naranga Achar

We did not indulge in a lavish Onam Sadya spread this year since I was caught up in Client meetings at work.  Fortunately I had picked up a few essentials to come up with a few Sadya favorites-avial, thoran, parippu, sambhar, kitchedi and payasam. R's brother from Texas and his family joined us for dinner since they are still in the process of setting up home in DC once again. His wife was generous enough to bring over the pappadam and Okra kitchedi to help me out, very very nice of her. THe Sadya went real well, but a simple lemon pickle grabbed my attention so I'll share the recipe with you. This pickle is usually situated to the extreme left corner of the traditional plantain leaf in every sadya.

My post today is a tribute to yet another recipe from my mother's wonderful array of pickles. Traveling down memory lane I remember the "Vella Naranga Achar" as it is commonly known, made from steamed lemons. I don't know why the aroma of this pickle always reminds me of the preserved lemons so common to Middle Eastern cuisine. Perhaps it has a distinctive simplicity that catches my attention when I steam the lemons. I'm sure everyone is aware of the amazing healing power of lemons with their high Vitamin C content and strong digestive properties- even the juice, pith and zest are good as a liver detoxifier and enhance metabolism. So it is not surprising that this healing pickle comes to our rescue on days when we enjoy a delicious Onam feast.
Happy Onam Amma!and my heartfelt Onam Wishes to all Malayalees.

My "Nishagandhi" flowered last week. This queen of the dark flower has a beautiful aroma and will only bloom at night. It lasts for about 6-8 hours before wilting. I have a large plant on my deck right now and here's one that I caught when it was ready to bloom.

3 Lemons
1 inch piece Ginger
5 Green Chillies
1 pinch Asafoetida
1/2 tspn sesame oil
1/2 tspn mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1-2 split red chillies

How to make this tart citrus relish:
1. At first, steam the three lemons after slicing half-way into quarters. About 5 -10 mins.
2. They should not be completely cooked but just turn soft. Add salt to the center of each lemon
and preserve overnight to allow the lemons to absorb the salt.
3. Next day, using a cutting board chop the ginger and green chillies to your desired size(as small as possible)
4. Cut the lemons into small pieces by draining the liquid. Do not toss the liquid.
5. Place the liquid back into a prepared canning jar and add asafoetida, a little more salt,
ginger, chillies and mix well.
6. Heat oil and add mustard, red chillies and curry leaves.When the mustard seeds stop crackling,
turn off the stove and add the liquid. Add the lemons and stir well.
7. When the pickle is cool enough, store in the canning jar and allow to sit for a day or two
before using.

Monday, August 27, 2012

#227 Veggie Salsa Tamales

Tamales are said to have been traced back to ancient Mayans and is considered a traditional South American dish made of masa or dough. Masa Harina is stone ground corn made from a dried and powdered form of hominy. The flour is mixed together with chicken stock or water, cheese and butter to make a soft pliable dough and then spread over corn husks. The outer coating of corn can be filled with meats, cheese, fruits, vegetables and anything good and then steamed to perfection. These may be simply served with salsa, sour cream or any  spicy sauce suitable to be paired with this Mayan dish. I have heard that tamales can be steamed in plaintain leaves in some regions and corn husks in others, but the elementary form is to steam them in plain aluminum foil. My Tamales have a simple salsa made of different colored peppers and corn stuffed inside of corn bread mix formed into a masa-like dough with a dash of Adobo seasoning to give it the real Mexican touch. I shared this with my co-workers and they gave me a couple of extra stars for using the corn bread mix!!

For the Salsa filling
1 Red Pepper
1 Green Pepper
1 Roasted Poblano Pepper
½ cup frozen corn
½ cup chopped cilantro
½ cup chopped sundried tomatoes( you can use fresh tomatoes too)
Lime juice- ½ lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated cheese- 1 cup

For the Dough:
3 packets of corn bread mix( 8 ounces each)
1 ½ sticks butter
½ tspn Adobo seasoning
2 Tbslpn sugar
1 pinch baking soda
1-2 cups hot water (use as needed)

12-15 Corn husks soaked in water overnight

1. Wash, soak the corn husks overnight and wipe dry with a paper towel.
2. Chop together all of the peppers and mix them with the remaining salsa ingredients. Keep aside.
3. Take the ingredients for the dough in a bowl and pour enough hot water while
Mixing the dough together with a wooden spoon or egg beater until well mixed.
The dough should look like fritter dough but a little thicker.
4. Take each corn husk at a time and place a large Tablespoon of the dough in the center.
5. Spread the dough evenly into a small rectangle about 3 inches wide.
6. Place a teaspoonful of salsa in the center. ½ tspn of cheese and wrap.
7. Wrap the salsa and cheese well enough so that the dough completely covers the filling.
8. Tear off the edge of the corn husk and tie a knot over the folds so that the
Tamale is enclosed inside the package and the dough does not fall off while steaming.
9. Place a large pot or steamer over the fire and add water at the bottom.
10. In the steamer slowly place the Tamales standing up so that they are not immersed in the water.
Place the lid and steam over medium to low fire until the steam cooks the dough- approximately 20-30 minutes.
11. Remove from fire cool and serve.
12. I had an extra Poblano pepper that I roasted so I pulsed it along with some store-bought Italian dressing a
nd served the tamales with the sauce.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

#226 "We gotta say goodbye to the Summer..............with creamsicles

How can you say good bye to the Summer when it seems like it just began?  The '70s Bobby Vinton song comes to mind "Though we gotta say goodbye to the Summer.....". But as the saying goes, "all good things must come to an end" and there is no exception, so it's time to welcome the Fall.

The rain has been coming down quite quickly but just not enough to end the drought. Let's hope the rain will continue so that Farmers Markets and organic foods will grow in abundance. The nation has declared a state of drought and grocery prices have already started shooting up and at this rate we all may have to change over to a diet of canned tuna and crackers!LOL!

The Farmer's markets are also following the trend and prices were heavy last time I picked up a few peaches and fresh juice. With a couple of leftover peaches grilled with a little brown sugar I created this cooling creamsicles. Summer is almost coming to an end and what better way to cool down and welcome the fall than making peach and orange creamsicles.

Peach- 1
Brown Sugar- 1 tspn
1. Slice the peach into half and remove the stone.
2. Heat a grill pan and add brown sugar,place the peach halves cut side down
3. Let grill until brown sugar is bubbling. Slice the peaches into 4 slices each.

For Making creamsicles:
Milk or Soymilk- 1 cup
Orange juice- 1/2 cup
Honey- 2 Tbslpn
To freeze creamsicles use a Popsicle maker that has broad rectangle shape.

How to make them:
1. I found the four popsicle maker with the plastic sticks that can be inserted at the center before freezing.(These were used by my children to make popsicles from fruit juices when they were young).
2. Take grilled peach slices along with a little of the juices and add 1-2 slices inside each popsicle container.
3. Mix 1/2 cup of milk and honey and mix well. slowly pour the milk into each popsicle container equally until it reaches the top without disturbing the peach slices. Now cover with the plastic cover and sticks and freeze until firm and ready to eat.
4. Take a paper cup and add the orange juice and the rest of the milk and mix well and cover with aluminium foil. Place a plastic spoon by breaking the foil in the center right in the middle of the cup. Gently and carefully place the paper cup in the freezer and freeze until firm and ready to eat.
5. Remove from freezer and quickly immerse in warm water for a second to release the popsicles from their molds. Enjoy the cool treat!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#225 Festive Veggie Pizza swirl Bread and Herbed Dinner Rolls

I was heading home from work one day, when I made my way to the Bakery to pick up a fresh sandwich. I was famished after a long day at work. But, as I stepped into the bakery the intoxicating smell of bread hit me and a sense of relaxation engulfed me. I ordered my Portabella mushroom sandwich and was heading out when, through the window a box of dinner rolls caught my attention almost like they were calling my name!! Soft, white and brown peaks speckled with a sprinkle of herbs they looked good enough to eat dabbed with a bit of buttter.  Now, I didn't want to go back in to buy them, so off I went thinking "What better way to relax on a Saturday than do some baking and spreading the aroma around the house?"
So last Saturday, I got my flour and yeast down from the pantry to bake these veggie rolls. I knew it was going to be a long relaxing day but who doesn't like beating, raising and baking dough?   When I start kneading, mixing and baking, it is usually quite peaceful and refreshing.  Baking always clears my mind. I remembered a nice cinnamon raisin bread I had baked a few years back and an idea came to mind-- a 'pizza' bread. So here's how the baking session went.............................and find my post at BYOB event on

4 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 pkg(1/4 oz) active dry yeast
1 1/4 tspn salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
2 Tblspn butter
2 eggs + 1 beaten for egg wash

Veggies: 1 grated carrot, 1/2 cup spinach and 1/4 cup shallots and olives chopped.
Grated Cheese- 1 cup
Spaghetti sauce- 1/2 cup

Toppings:1/2 tspn dry chopped onions, 1/4 tsp garlic and 1/4 tsp dry basil

Directions for making the basic dough:
1. In a large bowl, combine warm water with sugar and yeast. Let rise for 15 mins.
2. Warm the milk and butter in a microwave cup until well blended.
3. Mix together both liquids from steps 1 and 2 into the large bowl in step 1.
4. Add flour, salt and blend well together add the eggs and mix well adding the rest of the flour and veggies and kneading for about 2 mins.
5. If you prefer to use the dough mixer in a bread machine feel free to use that instead.
6. After the dough comes together smooth and elastic, turn onto a floured surface and knead well for about 6-8 mins. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to oil the top. Cover with a plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled or for at least an hour.
7. Knead down the dough again and turn onto a floured surface dividing it into 12 balls (lemon sized). Roll and shape into balls and place equally along a greased 13 X 9 baking pan. Let rise for 30 mins.
8. Take the rest of the dough and roll using a rolling pin into a square. spread a layer of
spaghetti sauce over it. Spread the cheese and 1 Tblspn of leftover veggies.
How to spread and roll the 'pizza' bread before the last proofing

9. Slowly roll from the bottom to the top making sure to tuck the sides in and enclose the "pizza" stuffing inside the bread.  Place inside of a greased loafpan. Let rise for 30 mins.
10. Heat oven to 375 degrees. While the oven is warming up, mix together the topping ingredients. Once both rolls and 'pizza' swirl bread have risen well,  brush with the 1 egg wash and sprinkle the topping. (The bread may take longer to rise than the rolls)
11. Bake rolls for about 12-15 mins. Serve with butter.
12. Bake the 'pizza' swirl bread for about 20 mins or until the top is lightly browned. Serve with extra spaghetti sauce.

Friday, August 10, 2012

#224 Aromatic Pepper-Fennel Fish Curry

I'm sure you're all familiar with the Fennel Bulb. The aromatic white root and fronds widely available in markets worldwide. It is usually used by Italians while cooking or baking with fish. Fennel is sliced thin in salads and served with orange ---a fantastic combination. They resemble 'dill' in many ways.
But, have you tried using dried fennel seeds? This seed is aromatic with medicinal properties especially helpful to the digestive system. Fennel seeds are widely used in Indian cuisine as well as some Middle Eastern countries as a part of combination of spices in certain gravies and for flavoring meats. In the Southern part of India- my home state Kerala, this spice is widely used in curry powders for meat and fish. This fish curry is my version of a friend's recipe. She is originally from the region of Kottayam in the state of Kerala but I've added a few of my own favorites in this recipe...............

Fresh Fish-1/2 lb fish cleaned, de-skinned, with bone-in cut up into 1/2inch pieces,
Shallots- 4 cubed.
Green chillies- 2
GInger- 1 inch piece
Garlic cloves- 4
Black pepper whole- 1/2 tspn
Kashmiri Chili powder-1-2 Tblspn
Turmeric Powder- 1/2 tspn
Fennel seed powder- 1/2 tspn
Tomato Ketchup- 2 Tblspn
Raw mango sliced- 1
Curry leaves - 1-2 stems crushed
Thick Coconut Milk- 1/2 cup

For Tempering:
Olive Oil (Coconut oil is best)- 2 Tblspns
Mustard seeds-1/2 tspn
Fenugreek/methi seeds-1/4 tspn
Whole red chillis cut up roughly-2

1. If you prefer to leave the skin of the fish on that is fine, I usually prefer to de-skin the fish for Kerala recipes as much as possible. Cube the fish or leave them chunky just to make sure not overcook it. Keep aside.
2. Coarsely grind the shallots, green chillies, garlic, ginger together and keep aside. Crush the pepper and keep aside.
3. Place a pan( or a meen chatti) over the fire and add the oil, add the tempering spices.
4. Once the mustard splutters and pops, add the onion mixture and saute on a slow fire until the aroma fills the air. Toss in Kashmiri chili powder, turmeric powder, mango slices and 1/2 cup of water. Let cook for a minute. Add the fish, black pepper, fennel powder, ketchup and curry leaves.
5. Cover and cook on a very slow fire making sure to coat the spice gravy all over the fish. Avoid stirring the fish at this stage with a spoon or ladle. If the gravy gets thick rotate the pan gently to stir.
6. Let simmer on a gentle flame for about 10 minutes making sure that the thick sauce is not sticking to the bottom of the pan.  It is very important not to stir the curry at this time to prevent fish from breaking up.
7. When the fish has just cooked, remove from fire, add the coconut milk and serve with steamed rice or yuca mash(Kappa).

Friday, August 3, 2012

#223 Raise the Roof Lime Basil Cod piled with Watercress Salad

In the United Kingdom Atlantic Cod is considered the freshest locally caught fish. While it is widely used for the famous 'fish and chips' it's firm flesh makes it one of the most versatile for grilling and serving in style! In lieu of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London I am making a grilled Cod dish so flavorful and moist served with the British Sweet pea puree especially in honor of London hosting a great event this year.  A sigh of relief for the return of Power in North India, where millions of people were living in the dark and giving up the comfort of electricity- one we cannot leave out of daily life. 
How did I get to this meal you ask?
As the heat and the thermostat rises in the city of Washington DC, the stone buildings seem to loom larger and the streets are still bursting with tourists, federal workers, residents and commuters. Meanwhile, the weekends are quiet and desolate especially this weekend---since people are staying indoors, cooling off with a cold beer and watching as much of the Olympics on TV as they can. My family has been swarming in the family room near the Televisions too and waiting to see if we should be ordering food. Although a gourmet meal at a downtown restaurant sounds very tempting(it's too hot to cook!), it isn't the best climate to set out on the road, so I'm bringing somewhat of a gourmet meal home with a nice serving of Cod, sweet peas and watercress salad and then spoil ourselves rotten with ice-cream at the Coldstone creamery?

1 Filet of Cod -1/2 lb
Sweet green peas-1 cup cooked well
Fresh Watercress- 1 cup
Salt, lemon juice, pepper and olive oil as needed.

Basil-Parsley Emulsion
Fresh Basil Leaves- 1 cup
Fresh Flat leaf Parsley- 1/2 cup
Lime- 1 grate the peel(without the white part) and juice the lime
Olive oil- 1/2 cup
Salt and pepper to taste.

1. Take the basil, flat leaf parsley, lime juice, lime rind, salt, pepper and olive oil in a bowl.
2. Using the hand-blender emulsify the mixture until it is coarsely ground. Keep aside.
3. Take the cooked sweet peas and add 1/2 tspn butter enough salt and blend using the hand-blender.
4. Wash and drain the watercress and toss in a light dressing of lemon juice salt and pepper.
Keep all of the above aside for serving the main dish -the Cod.

To grill or bake the cod filet
1. Slice a serving portion from the filet. If you are serving three people cut three portions and marinate in   1 tspn of Basil-Parsley emulsion for each portion.
2. When ready to grill, heat a stove top or electric grill until it is sizzling.
3. Place the cod pieces over the grill and cook on both sides until just done.

For serving:
1. Take a large dinner plate and place a ring of pea puree at the base using a cookie ring.
2. Gently remove the ring leaving the puree circle in the center of the plate.
3. Gently place the grilled fish on top of the pea puree.
4. Top with a portion of the watecress salad over teh fish artfully. Make sure it does not topple down.
5. Wipe the sides of the plate and just before serving drizzle a Tblspn of extra emulsion around the plate.  Serve.

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