Brown Burfi

Happy Navratri and Saraswati Pooja. It is my favorite time of the year. While it is a time for many to fast, it is time to feast here. Now is the time I end up making loads of goodies and apologetically devour them all. After all Bombes in Bombe habba need to eat enough to last their upcoming year long hibernation in the dark store room. Here is our Bombe habba 2017 edition. Ideas are hard to come by for a traditionalist like me doing it every year. But then something needs to be different each year otherwise it would become a chore. This year, the runners are new, hopefully one year is good enough time to figure out the scheme for 2018.


  


Now for the unapologetic feasting part. It is already the Saptami or the Saraswati Pooja today. Lot of entertaining and Bombe /Golu hopping is already behind. Three more days left to feast and then comes the deluge of guilt. Before that happens, I will loll around dressing up in silk saris, jewelry and eating great food. I am so contended in my hedonistic cocoon right now that I do not even miss onions, garlic and eggs.
Sweet of the day today is brown Burfi. So here it comes.


We will need

Evaporated milk 1 measure
Ricotta Cheese 1/2 measure
Light brown sugar 1/2 measure
Butter 1/4 measure
Cardamon powder a generous pinch

Method:
  • Place a piece of parchment paper on a tray or a baking dish. Set it aside.  Keep a bowl of ice water handy.
  • Combine all the ingredients in a wide mouthed non stick pan. Set it on medium flame. Keep stirring continuously. 
  •  Once the mixture starts to bubble all around and starts to resemble lava, reduce heat. Scoop up a teaspoon of the mixture and carefully pour it into the bowl of ice cold water. Try forming a ball using the mixture in the water. If it forms a soft ball the mixture is ready for the next step else keep stirring it on low heat checking for the soft ball stage every couple of minutes or so.
  • If it is ready ,remove from heat and let it cool for about 15-20 minutes. or until the mixture starts to thicken.  
  • Give it a good stir till  the mixture looses its sheen. Pour it onto the parchment lined tray. Spread the mixture around uniformly and set it aside to cool and set completely. 
  • After the mixture has set, cut it into desired shape and store it in an airtight box.

Chocolate Strawberry rolls



What would be the best possible match in the culinary marriage of chocolate? If I were to match the horoscope, I would conclude that it is orange that is the best match closely followed by strawberry. Somehow, a hint of orange in an otherwise ordinary brownie takes my taste buds several steps closer to nirvana. However in puff pastries and rolls it is strawberry that is a match made in heaven. It is not just Valentine ’s Day that Chocolate and strawberries make a great couple, they sure are any morning when I am craving for these rolls.

Speaking of match made in heaven reminds of weddings.  I love weddings, though I don’t get to go to weddings since I live so far away from family these past several years.  Back then it used to be joyous occasion with extended families, food , celebrations and new clothes, something we looked forward to.  Earliest of memories of a wedding stretch back to eighties, from the cinema wedding to a muslim one to family, several of them. The cinema wedding was indeed dramatic. A wedding sequence for the classic Kannada movie Bandana was being filmed in my neighborhood. The movie makers requested women in our neighborhood to go over to the shoot dressed for the occasion. Hoping to catch a glimpse or their favorite stars (Suhasini Maniratnam and Jai Jagadeesh) my neighbor took me along. Once the shoot was over we were to return back home but I would not budge without the traditional meals served over banana leaf. I threw a big tantrum over food. Poor my neighbor could not convince me that it was just a shoot and there would be no food. Instead she just scooped me up and hurried me back home to my mother. Then there was my teacher’s wedding -a muslim one that I distinctly remember. It was the first time I saw her in make-up and bridal finery, but that did not strike me. What struck me was that my teacher who would otherwise be chatty, pacing up and down the classroom sat amidst bunch of women with her head covered, eyes closed in stoic silence.

The best were the weddings in my own families, when my uncles or cousins got married. Each one of those marriages is unforgettable. Preparations would start months earlier once the match was finalized. There would be several trips to shop for clothing, jewelry etc. Strangely it is just not the bride and the groom that got to wear new clothes. The whole family shopped for new clothes, we end up buying clothes (mostly Saris) for members of distant branches of the family even those that we met only during weddings and have trouble remembering names and how they are related to us. These shopping trips spearheaded by the senior most women folk is a family is like Ekta Kapoor soaps- never ending. Every other day someone pops up on their radar that they had omitted from the Sari list.  This loot goes on till the last day. Men folk typically accompany the shopping party the first few times and then they throw in the towel. The very political process of distributing the loot continues parallel with shopping. There always are folks who think the other cousin scored a better or more expensive Sari. It is impossible to make everyone happy even those who were allowed to shop their own stuff will end up no-so-happy after they see the other cousin’s choice. And then there is the dangerous game of recycling Saris. The sari scored in one the weddings in the family of the third cousin twice removed will duly be stored in the closet to be presented to someone else. Some how these senior women in the family like matriarchs in an elephant herd remember everything. I wonder how, I cannot as much remember the matching blouses to my sari. Sometimes even elephantine memory does not help and these recycled stuff short circuit. As with every short circuit these situations are also associated with explosive fireworks of different intensities and some waterworks which if harvested will keep Tamil Nadu happy during the Kuruvai season. Then there will be efforts to please the aggrieved party in form of bribes, praises, more water works from the accused party and they all kiss and make up. This is just the story of Clothes (Saris). There is still jewelry, decorations, food and most important navigating the quagmire of inquisitive relatives who think they have the right to talk to you about everything in your life from bedroom to bathroom to your office desk, nothing is out of bound here.
All these for another day, for now let me focus on chocolate strawberry rolls. These chocolate strawberry rolls turned out to be soft, sweet and chocolaty. It said Sunday like nothing else. So here it is.
We will need,

For the rolls:
Maida 1 Cup
Whole Wheat flour (Chapati flour) 1 Cup
Yeast 1.5 tsp
Salt 1/2 tsp
Sugar 3 tbsp (add more if sweeter rolls are preferred, these are barely sweet, just the way my family likes)
Butter 3 tbsp plus 1 tsp or so to grease
Milk  lukewarm Shy of 1 Cup

Filling:
Strawberry jam 
Chocolate Chips /chunks of choice (I love mini bitter sweet chunks) as desired

Method:

    • Dissolve the yeast in milk + 1 tsp sugar and set it aside. If the mixture turns frothy in the next 15 minutes or so. If it is not frothy they discard and repeat using fresh package of yeast.
    • Mix in all the dry ingredients. Melt the butter and stir it into the milk mixture. 
    • Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the milk mixture. Mix it well and knead it into a soft ball. Add more milk if the mixture is too stiff.  
    • Grease a bowl with a little butter and place the dough. Cover it with a kitchen towel and place it in a warm spot till it doubles. It took me about 40 minutes. 
    • Punch the dough down and roll it out into a rectangle about 1/4" thick. Spread the strawberry jam all over the dough excluding the the area along 1/2" from the edges. 
    • Scatter the chocolate chips/chunks. Starting from the wider side, gather the edges and start rolling it tightly into a log.Keep the chocolate chips in place while rolling so that they don't bunch.
    • Cut the log into six pieces and transfer it into a greased baking dish one inch apart from each other. Cover with a kitchen towel and keep it in a warm place to double. 
    • Pre heat oven to 375F.  Once the dough had doubled in size, brush some butter over the dough and pop it in the oven. They are done when they are fragrant and golden on top.Serve immediately.






    Ricotta and Panner Peda


    After several years I have started watching a Hindi soap rifling off the internet. I would have loved to watch it legit but for three reason. I am a streamer and I don’t even own a TV, though technically Honey has one in the basement it is far too complicated. That damn thing comes with four remote controls. Turning it on is a nightmare, let alone surf for the right input and subsequently the channel. I did rather solve some trigonometry sums than try to venture into the realm of TV. Miss you KEONICS on/off TV. Two, Hotstar does not stream in USA. I wrote them several times but they would not listen. They don’t even have it on amazon prime channels or Netflix. I almost fell of the chair thinking of Desi soaps on Netflix/Amazon prime. They can fit in tens and thousands of content in the space needed to fit in just Kyun Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. Imagine Game of Thrones versus Kum Kum Bhagya, economics of cloud bytes!!

    Post justification for rifling, let us get to the soap. Boy! It is hard to wait. I mean being a streamer and oldest of millennials I loose out on waiting game even before it starts. Hello! how can you go on for days without watching how it ends. Not that I did not watch soaps before. I do remember watching several of them on Doordarshan including Shanti and Swabhiman but those were the times we had only them to watch and nothing else. If there was a power cut during the air time we lost those episodes forever. Also I remember watching a weepy called  Thoda Hai Thode Ki Zaroorath Hai. This one was probably a weekly. Not sure though, it is been a long time and as can be expected I abandoned it midway after it got too tedious. I did watch the Kyon Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi initially when Tulasi was a Physics MSc topper (anyone remember?) and abandoned it once she because bahu wearing ridiculous jewelry/sari. I should mention a disclaimer here. I did watch Iss Pyar Ka Kya Naam Doon the original one. It so happened that when the male lead quit the show there was a great hubbub, it was in the newspapers, internet everywhere. I was the proverbial cat that got curious and rifled though the internet and saw one of the episode. The male lead was super attractive, female lead good, story intriguing and it got me hooked. The soap was by then off air and here I was trying to catch up from episode 1. I did manage to watch the whole thing in about a week, of course forward tab helped. Since I started with last episode, there was no waiting to know the end and it suited me perfectly.

    Now for the current soap, how is that the hero and heroine always manage to tangle their dupatta/watch, bracelet /watch. God knows, it is like they wear their accessories with single intention of getting tangled with the other person. It has never once happened to me in real life and I am a rather clumsy person, yeah I have stumbled awkwardly in platform heals, tumbled down wearing PJs but never got tangled in another person’s accessories, not even in my sisters long hair back when we used to share the same bed, not even when sleeping like a logs. I always wonder how the writers came up with this kind of situations. And then hero and heroine manage to get locked in store rooms/ horse stables/lifts/jungle lodges, their own homes and what not. And the viewers are supposed to interpret it as a romantic getaway! Wonder if the writers have any clue how it might pan out in real life? If I ever get locked in a store room or lift with Honey, it would scare the living daylights out of me. What are we to eat? what about coffee? Honey would turn into a vampire without periodic ingestion of caffeine.(Periodic I mean once every 60-75 minutes) Even if single but people with mutual interest were locked in I seriously doubt if they think of a song and a dance instead of figuring out a rational way to get out. So much for willful suspension of disbelief, but hell I am hooked now and I cannot stop watching. Time to check into soap rehab -now called 'netflix'.
      
    How the hell did I end up writing about soaps when I should have been writing about Peda? There is a connection. Yesterday was Sri Krishna Janmashtami and I made some Pedas. Every time I think of Krishna, I do think of Nitish Bharadwaj –remember the guy who played Krishna in the original BR Chopra Mahabaharata? There is goes, even gods are not free from the clutches of soaps, I am a mere mortal. After all this I did not even realize my pedas were out of focus. But it is too late, Pedas are gone. I will go ahead anyway.

    This is what I do every festival season, get vats of ricotta cheese and sneak it in as many dishes in every possible combinations.
    Here we go, we will need,

    Fresh Paneer 1 measure
    Ricotta cheese 1 measure
    Jaggery 1/2 to 3/4 measure
    Cardamon 1 pod (seeds crushed. save the skin to make masala chai)
    Ghee a few tsps

    Method.
    • Crumble the Paneer into a thick non stick pan. Scoop the ricotta into it and mix. Place the mixture on low heat. 
    • Crush the jaggery and stir it into the cheese mixture. Keep stirring gently so that the mixture does not burn. The mixture will loosen up but keep stirring till it leaves the edges and comes together into a ball. Remove from heat.
    • Stir in the crushed cardamon. Using the back of a ladle, rub the mixture against the bottom of the pan. 
    • Once the mixture is cool enough to handle (but very warm), remove it onto a greased platter and rub it well using the heal of your hand till the mixture is soft and no longer crumby. Pour in some melted ghee if the mixture is sticky or feels too dry. 
    • Make it into a log and pinch balls the size of a gooseberry and press it into desired shapes. Refrigerate or consume immediately.


    Burfi

    I have an incurable sweet tooth. Somehow I manage to have at least a small piece of sweet every single day. Despite the ill effects of sugar, I am hooked. Sugar like a lot of other stimulants does lead to a sort of addiction much like nicotine. I cannot help myself from that bits of chocolates, Laddoos, Burfis that seem to seek me out. I am thinking of going sugar free for a few weeks to experiment with myself. More on that later. For now it is all about Burfi.

    Burfi is the Indian equivalent of fudge. It is sweet, rich and crumbly, mostly made of fatty milk from native Indian breeds. It has relatively a small list of ingredients but it is the technique that is slightly complicated. Because of the simplicity of the ingredients the quality of the ingredients is what differentiate the end product. Somehow Burfis made from the homogenized milk in the regular American super market can never beat the taste of the ones made from fresh and fatty cow /buffalo milk back home. Again not the homogenized, processed junk that comes in plastic bags in India, they are just as crappy as the ones in the cartons here in America.

    Not that I have the perfect Burfi, But I am on the way.  This particular draft has been lying in my folder for three -four years now but somehow I never posted it. Recently I made a batch as a hostess gift at one of the dinner parties we were invited to. Our hosts loved it, so did other guests. So here we do.

    We will need,

    Milk powder /dry Mawa 2 cups
    Evaporated milk  1 small tin

    Sugar 3/4 cup
    Butter 4 tbsp + extra
    Pista 4-5 chopped or Tooti-fruiti  1 tbsp chopped



    Method:
    • Butter the insides of a baking dish about 8"-10" square. Cover the bottom and  sides with a piece of wax paper. Set it aside.Take a small bowl of water and set it aside.
    • Combine the milk powder, evaporated milk, sugar and the 4 tbsp butter in a sauce pan. Stir using a wire whisk to make sure there are no lumps. Set the pot on medium heat and stir constantly. 
    • The mixture will start boiling and there will be bubbles all around. Reduce heat and cook for five minutes or so. 
    • Now take about half a teaspoon or so of the mixture and pour it into the bowl of water that was set aside earlier. Try to wrap it into a ball in the water. It can be hot, so got to watch out here. If the mixture is in soft ball stage that is, if a ball can be made from the mixture, remove from heat and keep stirring till the mixture hardens slightly. 
    • Pour into the prepared baking dish and spread it around.Garnish it with chopped Pistas/ Tooti-fruti.
    •  Let it sit for a few hours, preferably overnight 
    • Once the Burfis are set cut it into pieces. store it in an air tight jar for a few days.





    Mixed Veg Paddu

    One very critical as aspect of cooking in the ability to innovate. There are times we realize we  have run out of an ingredient mid way through the cooking. Or there are times when we have to accommodate someone with a dietary restriction. Our grandmothers and mothers were exposed to such situations much better than we were. Therefore they are better cooks. My grandmother might not have known Al Dente pasta, but she sure knew how to dish our finger licking food even at the end of the month when most of her pantry would be empty.

    It is one such constraint that lead this dish. Paddu is typically loaded with crunchy onions along with a bunch of other ingredients to make it crispy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the insides. However one of my family members visiting from India had a dietary restriction that particular morning I was all set to make regular Paddus. As I chopped the onions, I casually asked if they were ok with onions in their food. Reluctantly they answered they would like something without any onions.  I had by then no other option to fall back upon and I chanced upon a hunk of cabbage sitting in the refrigerator. Quickly in went the Cabbage and out went the onions. The results were surprisingly good. Now cabbage stands in for onions in several of my dishes and we love it.

    We will need,

    Left over Idli/Dosa batter
    Cabbage finely chopped
    Carrots grated
    Green Chillies minced
    Coriander fresh chopped
    Jeera
    Curry leaves
    Channa dal soaked in water for 1 hour
    Salt to taste
    Oil to grease the Paddu skillet

    Method:
    • Sprinkle a generous pinch of salt on the chopped cabbage and set it aside for 30 minutes. Squeeze out as much moisture as possible. 
    • Stir in all the ingredients gently into the batter.
    • Preheat the Paddu skillet. Grease some oil into each of the molds. Pour a spoon fulls of batter and cook covered. Add a dab more oil if it looks too dry. Flip and cook on the other side till golden and crispy all over. 
    • Remove and serve with coconut chutney

    Avalakki Spinach Uppittu

    In this age of hyper information, as much as life gets easier, it also gets complicated in other ways.  We are constantly bombarded with 'health' foods and panaceas on all of media. Reader's Digest to The Hindu to 24x7 TV channels, radio. Everyone seem to have an opinion on what constitutes 'health' foods and what will help us as a society to lead a healthy and long life. But how credible are these bits of information. Do these bits reflect current scientific evidence? Going beyond, how solid is the scientific evidence. How much of it is truth and how much of it is paid for by vested interests. It is all questions and more questions.

    It is my pet peeve when people recommend the latest fad. Oats was one a  few years back. Now it is mainstream. Australia Oats lobby successfully marketed their surplus oats to 'health conscious' Indians. Now everyone seem to think Oats is a healthier than say rice/ragi/wheat. The truth is oats is as good or as bad as any other grain. It might have a slight edge over polish rice, but not unpolished rice. And then there was a the 'fat-free' fad. Everything was made fat free. But at what cost?  remove  fats and replace it with salt and sugar. How else can something that is processed to remove all fats stop tasting like cardboard? We now know that it was the sugar industry here in the USA that funded research studies that kept trying make fats look bad even though the earliest of unbiased research did show the problems associated with sugar consumption.

    The fat versus sugar battle was the longest running sham show we have ever seen.
    Now there seems to be a trend somewhat extolling the virtues of our own millet. Millet do not need as much water as say rice or wheat so they are environmentally friendly. They have a slightly better nutrition profile over polished grain. They can be substituted for rice/wheat in a variety of traditional recipes too.But for today we will stick to Avalakki or beaten rice. Not just any Avalakki, it is the red rice avalakki/poha. This variety retains a portion of the barn and has a slightly reddish hue. It is cooked the same way as the regular Poha. In this recipe I have bumped up the veggie quotient by throwing in spinach.


    We will need,

    Red Rice Avallakki/ Poha  1 cup
    Peanut oil   2-3 tbsp
    Mustard seeds 1/8 tsp
    Jeera 1/4 tsp
    Hing  a dash
    Curry Leaves a handful
    Urad dal 1 tsp
    Channa dal 1 tbsp
    Onion chopped 1 large
    Green Chillies slit into two 4-5 (adjust according to taste)
    Turmeric a  generous pinch
    Spinach 1 bunch (washed, patted dry and chopped)
    Salt and lemon juice to taste
    Toasted peanuts to top (optional)

    Method:
    • Wash the Avalakki in several changes of water. Sprinkle 2-3 tbsp of water on the avalakki and set it aside to plump up and soften.
    • Place a Kadai on medium heat. Once it is hot, pour in the oil, quickly followed by mustard, jeera, hing, curry leaves, Urad dal and Channa dal. the spices and dal will pop and sizzle. 
    • Once the dals are golden, throw in the onion and green chillies. Saute till the onions are translucent.
    • Make a spot in the center and place the turmeric and cook it for a few seconds to soften the pungent edge of the turmeric. Stir well.
    • Throw in the spinach and saute for a couple of minutes so the spinach wilts but is not mushy.
    • Fluff up the Avalakki with your fingers /fork. Once the grains are separate, throw it into the Kadai. Add salt, lemon juice and gentle fold it all into the onion/spinach mixture. 
    • Once the Avalakki is completely warm, remove from heat and scatter the peanuts. Or the peanuts can be scattered on individual servings as well.
    Notes: I can easily think of substituting spinach with other greens. Any tender greens will work in this recipe.
     

    Ragi Vegetable Uppittu

    A heavy breakfast is the order here. Somehow all the three of us thrive on a heavy breakfast. Now that they say breakfast is good for us. Back home it has always been that way. The typical routine of a school back home used to be something like this ..

    6 AM wake up: The whole household would be up by then. My mother would have finished her ablutions, prayers and would be busy preparing breakfast/lunch etc.
    6-9 AM:  Study a bit and play a bit, drink a cup of scalded and cooled fresh milk somewhere along the way. Some more play/ finishing home work in a hurry
    9 to 9.45 AM: Bath, breakfast and get ready to school.
    10. to 5.00 PM: School
    5.15 PM : Walk back home, change into play clothes and go to the street to play with the kids in the neighborhood. Play till sundown. My mother's rule was that we are home as soon as the street lights turned on. But we bargained for the 5 minutes -10 minutes and played till it got really dark. Rest of the evening was spent in studies, dinner and the whole household was bed by 10 PM. In fact the whole neighborhood would be shutdown by ten! Except for the ticking grandfather clock in my house and our neighbor's house (i.e my maternal grandfather's house) and the occasional howl of stray dogs, it would be completely silent.

    And then there would be power cuts. We would have no electricity for a few hours, it is still common back home and life just goes on. Here in USA, if there is no electricity, all hell breaks loose. During those power cuts especially during summers, we would all sit in our Veranda and Amma would narrate us stories. She is an excellent story teller and many kids would come running if they got to know that the story sessions were on. We loved power cuts. We then did not have to study.

    Life has changed so much since then. With the advent of cable TV, we do not see the aunties gossiping - they are all so busy with serials. Kids no long play on the street- it has become a dangerous place now. Besides with all the classes they are sent to every day of the week, they hardly have time to play. Why did we end up here? It is such a sad loss of community life something today's kids will never know.

    Back to the heavy breakfast idea.  Sunny boy is somewhat a picky eater. I guess most kids of his age are. It is indeed a challenge to make him eat his vegetables and whole grains. He loved Idlis and Dosas but they are all made of refined rice. (experiments to use more whole grains in Idlis and Dosa is currently on at Kannada Cuisine kitchen, I will post the recipes one I am happy with the results) . I am currently in the experiment mode combining millets and vegetables -a great combination of hardly whole grains and vegetables.
    This Ragi uppittu with Vegatables tastes great and is choke full of vegetables. It tastes great too and we all love it.
    As usual I made it in my wide bottomed cast iron Kadai and love the result. I recommend using a well seasoned cast iron Kadai like this one or a non stick Kadai (I have not been using non stick cookware for years now).

    We will need,

    Ragi flour 1.5 cups
    Water or buttermilk 1 cup or so
    Peanut oil 3-4 tbsp
    Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
    Cumin 1/4 tsp
    Hing a generous dash
    Channa dal 1 tbsp
    Urad dal 1tbsp
    Green chillies slit 5-6 (adjust according to taste)
    Curry leaves a handful
    Onions 3 medium diced
    Cabbage shredded 1 heaping cup
    Carrots shredded2
    Coconut grated 1/4 cup
    Coriander fresh a handful
    Salt and lemon juice to taste.

    Method:

    • Place the flour in a mixing bowl and sprinkle a few tablespoons of water. Rub the water into the flour breaking all the lumps. It should start resembling breadcrumbs. Alternately place the flour in a food processor and stream in the water/buttermilk till the flour is just moist and resembles breadcrumbs. All of the water might not be used up or more might be needed. Some flours absorb more liquids and some do not. So it is a good idea to go a tablespoon at a time. Once it looks like breadcrumbs, set it aside
    • Heat oil in the Kadai. Once hot, throw in the mustard seeds, cumin, hing, Channa dal, Urad dal, green chillies and curry leaves in quick succession. The spices will splutter. Stir once the spices splutter.
    •  Throw in the shredded Onions, saute for a minute. Throw in the Cabbage, Carrots and coconut. Reduce heat  and cover. Cook till the vegetables are tender crisp.
    • Stir in the prepared ragi flour mixture. Keep moving the mixture, it does have the tendency to stick to the bottom and burn. 
    • Once the mixture turns to a deep shade of brown and is nutty, fragrant adjust salt and lemon juice. Stir in the fresh coriander. Cook for a few a minutes. The mixture should start to leave sides once it is cooked. Remove from heat and serve hot. Yogurt is an excellent with this Uppittu.

    Akki Shivige Chitranna


    Akki Shavige or rice vermicelli used to be a love of labor. When we were young Shavige was something we got to eat when we visited our grandparents during our summer vacation. It was like a festival. The whole family would get together and my maternal grandmother -Ammaji as I call her used to prep a huge vat full of rice flour. All the women in the family would then start working on grating coconuts for the Kayihalu. They would grate half a dozen coconut in the huge Eligemane -the wooden plank with a knife/grater fit into to it. Then the other team would prep vegetables needed to make this kind of savory chitranna . The whole kitchen would be teaming with all the ladies chatting and working hard to make the meal a success. It would then be the time to make the vermicelli itself with the huge brass vermicelli press.

    The prepared rice flour balls were put in the slot and the handle pressed to squeeze out the tight rice balls into thin yummy goodness. It did require a lot of muscle power and the women could not have handled it all by themselves. My youngest maternal uncle Babu mama would then step in. The six plus tallest and presumably the stronger member of the family would keep at it till all the rice balls are neatly converted into piles of Shavige.

    Once that was done, the Shavige were divided into two portions, one to be consumed with Kayihalu and the other converted into a savory Chitranna or  Uppittu. These days we are a generation of convenience all we need to so is cut the pack of vermicelli open and soak it in hot water for a minute and drain. Snip it using a pair of scissors. And lo behold the vermicelli is ready. So here we go.

    We will need,

    Rice Vermicelli  prepared as per package instruction   3 cups
    Mixed vegetables small diced  2 cups ( I used a combination of green beans ,carrots and green peppers)
    Peanut oil 4 tbsp
    Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
    Jeera 1/4 tsp
    Hing a generous dash
    Curry leaves a handful
    Green Chillies 4-5 slit in the middle into two
    Turmeric a generous pinch
    Ginger grated 1 tsp
    Juice of one lime
    Salt to taste.

    Method:
    • Prepare the vermicelli as per the package instructions. Using a pair of scissors cut the long stings into shorter more manageable strings. Dice vegetables but save it separately because cooking times of different vegetables vary.
    • Heat the oil in a Kadai. I use my new cast iron Kadai in the picture above and I absolutely love it. Throw in the mustard seeds, Jeera, hing, curry leaves and Green Chillies. Once they stop spluttering add the turmeric and stir.
    • Throw in the diced carrots and beans. Cover and cook till the vegetables are tender crisp. Throw in the green peppers, ginger and cook for 2-3 minutes. 
    • Reduce heat and fold in the vermicelli gently. Add the lime juice and adjust salt. Typically the commercial vermicelli is already salted so this preparation need lot less salt than would the home made variety. Stir the mixture gently to combine the vegetables and the vermicelli. Heat it through and serve warm.
     

    Halasina Kayi Khorma

    Jack fruit is one of the most beloved fruits in southern and coastal Karnataka. Back home, as the temperature starts to tick upwards the school calendar becomes shorter and shorter and exams are just round the corner there are nicer things in store. Mangoes, Jack Fruits and local fairs or Jatre. Mangoes are the king of fruits nothing else need to be said about the juicy, luscious ,sweet favourful fruit. Jack Fruit on the other hand is like a parent, tough on the exterior, sweet on the inside and nourishing. We do have a saying in Kannada that says "Eat Mangoes after your meals, eat a Jack fruit when you are hungry in lieu of meals". It sure fills up.

    It is a common scene in southern Karnataka to see these spiny green beauties being sold by highways, in the markets and in small push carts opened and ready to eat. As a child I was told that bears love Jack fruit and that they are always in our fields around the jack fruit tress when it is the season. I did not believe it till one of them got bored with Jack Fruits and attacked an oldish grand uncle's buttock while he was on his way to water his field early one summer morning. He survived that attack but not that of the onslaught of time.

    Back to Jack Fruit. Some times we have very potent pre-monsoon showers. The destructive ones will knock down young jack fruits not yet ripe nor would it ever ripen to be consumed raw and also the mango blossoms. Such pre-monsoons break my heart because then we will not have the best of mangoes. But the saving grace would be all the dishes are can be made with the Young Jack fruit.  If prepared well, they can give Chicken a run for their money. Recently Jack fruit has become very popular among the tiny Vegan population here in the US. They say it tastes like pulled pork. I don't know about pulled pork and would not care as long as I can have my Jack fruit. slurp.

    Any one who has ever cut open a jack fruit will know how messy the business is. For started, it is a sticky, milky resin, more so the young ones which is very difficult to get rid of if started improperly. So always grease your hands and knife before cutting it open. America being the land of convenience, from drive thru restaurants, banks, coffee shops and of course canned young jack fruit. So here is the Khorma.


    We will need,

    Young Jack fruit cut into pieces about 1 lb
    Salt  a generous pinch
    Turmeric Powder  a generous pinch
    Oil to deep fry


    For the Masala:
    Onions 4-5 medium
    Garlic 3 cloves
    Ginger 1/2"
    Cinnamon 1/2 "
    Cloves 4-5
    Copra (grated) 3-4 tbsp
    Chilli powder 1 tsp (adjust as per taste)
    Dhania powder 2 tsp
    Tomato 1 medium

     For the tempering:
    Ghee 
    Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
    Jeera 1/4 tsp

    Yogurt 4 tbsp
     Salt and lemon juice to taste

    Method:
    • Toss the Jackfruit pieces with salt and turmeric very gently so they do not disintegrate. If using the canned variety, drain well before using. . Heat oil in a Kadai. Lower the seasoned Jackfruita few pieces at a time. Remove the jack fruit once it is golden brown and drain it on to a paper towel. Finish all of the pieces.
    • Meantime heat a tablespoon of oil in a separate wok and stir fry the onions till slightly brown. Remove from heat and allow it is cool. Once it is cool, combine it with other ingredients for the masala paste and a little water in a blender and blend till smooth.
    • Heat ghee in a pan.  Toss in the mustard seeds and Jeera. Once they crackle, pour in the masala paste. Cook the mixture on medium heat.  Add more water if necessary. Cook for about 20-30 minutes. Once the mixture starts oozing oil, reduce heat. 
    • Stir in the yogurt, salt and the fried jack fruit. Simmer till the mixture comes together. 
    • Add lemon juice and serve hot with a rice of your choice.




    Vegetable Biriyani

    I am very very very fond of Biriyanis. There is a magic when rice is cooked right with a bunch of aromatic spices and loads of fat.  Amma's Chicken Biriyani happens to be my favorite along with the ones at Hanumanthu's in Mysore.A word about Hanumanthu's. It is an iconic place in Mysore. It is also one of my earliest memories related to food. I remember my father taking me there when I was a little kid. I stood in the narrow passage waiting for our to to-go biriyani packed in pieces of old news paper and Mutukada yele while people concentrated on the pile of biriyani in front of them. It is still the same small place in the by-lanes of Old Mysore. No fancy lights or boards, no fancy chairs or tables. It is no-nonsense-eat-and-leave place. Well if the food is so great, they can forget about the chairs, tables, light and focus on making the food as great each day. If you eat chicken and happen to be in Mysore, try their Biriyani. Their mutton biriyani is suppose to be even better but I have not tried it.

    Other than that I did enjoy Biriyanis in Lucknow and Delhi. I don't care for most other biriyanis. Chettinad style had everything but kitchen sink and too much going on for me.  Malabar style was not enough spicy and most other biriyanis don't seem to hit the spot for me. There happens to be so many varieties of Biriyani that I could just keep trying one each day of the year , perhaps even more.
    Here in New Jersey chicken Biriyani at Hoysala  (Kannada style) and Gongura  (Hydrabadi) are good.

    While Chicken and meat Biriyanis are very popular, vegetable biriyani seem to be their poor cousin, not celebrated and thought of only when there are no other options.  Recently I have fallen in love with this version and I will be making it quite often going forward. It is an elaborate process, but then what is a biriyani that is not elaborate. This version is rich and satisfying with loads of vegetables (which I love)


     In most vegetable Biriyanis I do not see as many vegetables as I would like. So I bumped up the veggies quotient and this one is choke full of vegetables. While I eat chiken biriyani for the rice, I eat the vegegie biriyani for the vegetables. So here we go cook up some virtual Veggie Biriyani



    We will need, (serves 4)

    Basmati Rice 2 cups
    Green Beans 2 cups (trimmed , washed and cut into 1" long pieces)
    Carrot 1 cup (trimmed, washed and cut into 1" pieces)
    Mushrooms 2 cups (chopped if too big)
    Butter 4 tbsp
    Fennel Seeds 1/2 tsp
    Black Cardamon 2
    Green Cardamon 4
    Mace a generous pinch
    Bay leaf 2
    Star Anise 1
    Shahi Jeera 1/2 +1/4 tsp
    Tomatoes 3 medium chopped fine
    Yogurt 4 tbsp beaten
    Salt to taste

    For the Masala paste
    Ginger 1" piece chopped
    Garlic 8 cloves
    Cloves 10
    Cinnamon 1" piece
    Green Chillies 5 (adjust according to taste)
    Dried Red Chillies (Byadagi) 5-6
    Turmeric 1/4 tsp

    Garnishes:
    Saffron a few strands
    Milk 2 tbsp (warm)
    Corinader chopped a big handful
    Mint chopped a big handful
    Fired Onions 1/2 cup
    Kewra water (2 drops) optional
    Gulab Jal (1/2 tsp) optional


    Method:
    • Wash the rice in several changes of water and soak it in clean water.  Combine the cut beans and carrots with 10 cups of water in a big pot and set it on medium heat. Cook till the beans are slightly tender but still very crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set it aside. Reserve the stock
    • Into the stock, throw in 1/4 tsp shahi Jeera, 1 bay leaf, 1 crushed black cardomon and 2 crushed green cardamon.  Drain the rice and throw it into the pot. Cook it the mixture comes to a boil. Then drain the rice and set it aside. The rice at this point is not fully cooked and that is alright.
    • Meantime combine all the ingredients for the Masala paste and blend it with as little water as possible. Soak the saffron in warm milk.
    • Heat butter in a pan. Crush 1 black cardamon, 2  green cardamon, mace, fennel seeds and star anise roughly. Once the butter has melted, throw in these crushed spices along with bay leaf and 1/2 tsp of shahi jeera. Once the spices crackle and are aromatic, pour in the masala paste. Stir to mix and cook on medium low heat making sure the masala mixture does not burn. 
    • Throw in the tomaotes into the masala mixture and cover. Sprinkle some salt and cover. Cook till the tomatoes are mushy and the fat starts to separate.
    • Reduce heat to low and stir in the beaten yogurt. Once the mixture comes to a gentle boil, throw in the cooked beans, carrots and mushrooms. Immeidately remove from heat. Mushrooms are not cooked at this point. But it will cook when we layer the Biriyani and finish cooking.
    • Once all the above steps are done, biriyani can be layered. In a Handi, place half the vegetable mixture. Cover it with half the rice. Top the first layer of rice with half of the corinader, mint, fried onions. Cover it with the remaining vegetable mixture followed by rice. Top it with the remaining corainder, mint, fried onions. Pour the saffron mixture over. A splash of Kewra and Gulab jal can also be added at this point. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil and set it on low heat. Cook for about 20-30 minutes till steam starts escaping from the edges of the aluminum foil. Remove from heat and serve piping hot. 
    Phew!! such a long one. But for a foodie like me, it is more than worth my effort and time. Have fun.

    Aloo Badane Gojju / Potato Egg Plant Gravy

    It is the peak summer time here in North Eastern United States. This time of the year we binge on fresh vegetable. Often we pick our own if not grow them. People who do not like their vegetables should try eating them in summers and see what real vegetables taste like. Not the waxed ,transported across continents junk, but real ones which smells and feels like vegetables.

    This time of the year we have make shift farm-stands spring back to life. We all wanna be gardeners try growing different vegetables and flowers. When we fail we just go pick them from the numerous small farms around here.  I made some potato eggplant gravy the other day as a part of a meal. Forgot to take a stand alone picture of the Gojju.


    we will need,

    Eggplant 5-6 (small round purple ones cut into quarters)
    Potatoes 2  (cut into chunks  and cooked)
    Coconut oil or peanut oil 2-3 tbsp
    Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
    Jeera a generous pinch
    Hing a dash
    Curry Leaves
    Salt to taste

    For the masala we will need

    Kopra 1/2 cup loosely packed
    Green Chillies 5-7  (adjust according to taste)
    Garlic 3 cloves
    Ginger 1/2 "
    Coriander a handful
    Mint a handful
    Cloves 4-5
    Cinnamon 1/2" small piece
    Tamarind extract 1/2 tsp

    Method:

    • Prep the eggplants and potatoes and keep it aside. 
    • Combine all the ingredients for masala in a blender and blend it into a smooth paste.
    • Heat the oil in a thick bottom pot and throw in the mustard, jeera, Hing and curry leaves.
    • Once they stop crackling, throw in the eggplant. Saute for a minute or two and pour in the Masala
    • Add half and cup of water, stir and cover. Cook till the eggplants are tender (but not fallen apart). 
    • Throw in the cooked potatoes and salt. Stir well. Cover and cook for a few more minutes. 
    • Remove from heat and serve hot with a bread of choice


    My Pantry

    Typically Indian kitchens (though in India and else where in other countries) are the most crowded part of the house. Mine was no exception. I started out with one suitcase full of cookware and things and ended up filling shelves after shelves of things and food. This post is focusing on pantry and Ingredients.

    Cooking Indian food from scratch is an elaborate affair. Typical recipes require upwards of 15 ingredients. Initially when I began cooking regularly, it was daunting to make grocery list, plan and shop. But it fell into place after a while. Then came the over drive.  Being a foodie, I wanted to try new cuisines experiment with my recipes therefore ended up shopping for new ingredients from all corners of the world. Initially I did not realize how problematic it was. For instance, getting carried away by Quinoa, I got a bag of Quinoa a couple of years ago. It took me years to get done with the bag. In the United States, it is very difficult to find smaller bags of ingredients. Packages seemed to grow bigger and bigger. Had I got a small bag say a few Oz of Quinoa instead of the 2 lb bag that I always found in stores, I would not have been sitting on my shelf for two years. My list of similar experience include Bonito flakes, Nori, Craisens (thankfully almost done with this one), Peanut butter, oats, cereal etc. Since I regularly shop at Costco, my little boy ends up liking one or the other eatable he gets to try there and a huge bag follows us home! After eating it twice, the novelty wears out and he refuses to finish the whole bag. And there I am left with something I do not want to eat, so does anyone else at home. Also I realized that I was mindlessly piling my cart at the Indian store to stock up on ingredients I might use only occasionally.This part of the problem was because of my sheer laziness. It was always easier to pile you shopping high than plan for each meal your family was going to have for the week or two. All I had to do to solve this portion of the problem was paying more attention to what was a priority in my kitchen. The non-priority ingredients could be brought occasionally when it is absolutely essential.

    In an effort to make my kitchen more efficient while cutting down on non-essentials, I started  tracking my cooking pattern and my typical shopping cart. I decided to leave my canisters empty till I genuinely needed the ingredient a few times. At that point, I used to put it down the ingredient on my running list of grocery. Doing this for several months, I think finally I am happy with the status of my pantry.

    Also my kitchen is rather on the smaller side and I do not have a butler's pantry or a store room. I just have one spare shelf  to pile my remaining part of a bag of say peanuts after filling the canister.Having a space constraint is in a way good because I am always aware of having to make room for stuff if I go way out of the way.

    Here is a summary of my pantry. With these ingredients I have cooked meals from scratch for 40-50 people.  This is indeed a well stocked Indian kitchen. I typically make on breakfast (everything on the blog labeled as such) and lunch/dinner (labeled as such on the blog). I also follow certain rules.

    Rule 1. If I can 'derive' an ingredient from another ingredient I already have on hand, I am not buying that particular ingredient. For instance, if I have whole peanuts, I am not buying either roasted peanuts or peanut butter. The only exception to this rule is Tea and Coconut. I typically stock loose Tea leaf as well as Tea bags. Tea bags for my better half- 'Honey' and loose tea for times when we have people over and need to make a big batch of tea , which is quite often. Having loose tea every day drives Honey nuts and making a gallon of Tea with tea bags just does not cut it. Coconut is sheer convenience given that I hail from the coconut belt while living miles away from fresh coconut source.

    The list of ingredients include:
    Top Tier: Ragi Flour and whole Byadagi Chillies
    Middle Tier: Vermicelli, dry coconut, Coconut powder, Split Channa dal /Kadalebele, Sooji/Rave, AP flour/ Maida, Channa dal roasted, Gulkand (slurp), Empty canister (still figuring out the ingredient I need the most and don't have in my kitchen), Peanuts and Kasuri methi.
    Since the picture was taken, I have optimized by eliminating Vermicelli which we were not using much. Avarebele in the then empty canister.



    Bottom tier: Toor dal (our staple), Moong dal, Rajma, Chickpea, Horse gram, Urad Dal (washed, for Idlis and Dose), Alasande/chori, Whole Masoor dal and split washed Masoor dal.

    Rule 2: If I do not use an ingredient for two months, most likely I will not need it. Rajma is falling into this category. I had not made Rajma in a while and no one is missing it. Currently Rajma in this bottom tier is now replaced with whole Urad dal or Kali dal (one of my favorites)

    Next come the more complicated part. Spices et al.
    Top Tier: Rice flour, Beaten Rice, Chickpea flour, millets( one of those impulsive buys at the grocery store the other week), Chutney pudi made by MIL, Saaru pudi, Huli Pudi

    Middle Tier: Ghee, Tea bags, Tea bags(sigh! Sleepy Time tea, which my little Sunny boy insisted I buy after a sampling session at Costco, god knows when that will be done), loose leaf tea, Horlicks (taste of childhood!), Badam milk powder (will be eliminating this from my kitchen once this particular batch is done), Tamrind, Jaggery, Coffee powder, Rasam pudi, Organic cane sugar from Costco and salt.




    Rule 3: Never skimp on spices. Spices are at the heart of Indian cooking. My cooking is also very spice intensive. But I do apply rule 1 here. Since I buy whole red chillies, I do not buy chilli powder. I make my own. Same applies for Coriander, Cumin, Pepper.
    Bottom tier top row: It is all about spices. These bottles are at the bottom tier because I typically use them very frequently. Mustard seeds, Cinamon, Cloves, big cardamon, Star Annise, Cumin, Ajwain, Marathi Moggu, Cumin powder(home made), Amchoor, Shahi Jeera, Garlic powder,Garam masala (home made)
    Bottom Tier bottom row: Coriander powder (home made), Javitri, fennel seeds, dried mint, ginger powder, fenugreek seeds, Kalhoovu (also called Pather ke Phool a strange looking lichens of a spice), Chilli powder, bay leaf, sesame seeds, nutmeg,whole corinader seeds and Pepper corn in the mill.
    I also have big vats of rice, wheat flour not seen in the photographs above. I have one more shelf of stuff which is currently work under progress. Kitchen is being updated shortly and I will post an update once it is done.

    Rule 4: Be fearless when using substitutes. For instance I easily substitute soy sauce for fish sauce, and I feel it is ok. . .

    With these paints in my palette, hopefully I don't have to stop painting!

    My Minimalism Summerised

    A few reasons why I believe in minimalistic lifestyle.

    1. Lower carbon foot print: the less we need, the less burdensome it is on Mother earth. Ex: fewer things we buy, lesser the demand and therefore lesser exploitation of earth during production/distribution/marketing. Also wasting resources on wants when a ten of the world worries about their next meal feels totally wrong.

    2. The more things I own, the more things own me! The emotional attachment to things and more things, starts making life feel heavy. It reminds me of a story of domestication of a wondering monk. Once upon a time there was this monk who was working hard for enlightenment. One day he sat under a tree meditating. A mouse started to disturb him and he got frustrated. He decided that getting a cat was an appropriate solution and he did. Once he got the cat, another problem arose. The cat ate the mouse but was hungry soon after. He started to pur sitting at his master's feet. So the monk was as distracted as before, just that he had a cat to look after. So he decided to buy a cow so as to feed the cow's milk to the cat and he did. He got the cow. He milked her and fed the cat. Now the cat was happy and curled up at his master's feet. The monk was happy, unfortunately his happiness was short lived. The cow started mooing out of hunger. The monk disturbed once again thought about it and got a servant to look after the cow. But the servant turned out to be lazy and things were not running smooth. The monk was still unhappy because his was not getting enough time to meditate. Some one suggested he get married, so his wife could look after the house, the servant, the cow and cat and then the monk would be free from a lot of his problems. He did. Well then he never got time to meditate and that was his life!

    3. It saves me a lot of time. Having a lot of things meant spending a lot of time maintaining / curating for those things.  The time thus saved can be used to indulge in a more enjoyable activity.

    4.Simple living is most efficient way of life and I am always for efficiency.  So instead of having 10 knifes, 4 dozen bowls we have just 2 and 6 respectively.We still get to most things with just these.

    5.Perhaps save money! Well this is an after thought but then who would not love money? I do. I was very thoughtful about buying clothes in 2014 and got just one piece of apparel the entire year. I did save money and did not miss anything in life this past year.

    6.Helps me focus on the 'real' side of my life. Shopping and eating are the most wide spread instant fix for all our emotional lacunae. They are instant fixes but very temporal in nature. It always gave me a high when I got a beautiful piece of apparel but it wore our pretty quick and many a times made me full of regret for having got something that was somehow did not make me feel 'beautiful'.

    Half a dozen reasons is good enough to embark on a life style. But then why a blog? Because I do not want people around me to think I am abnormal when I ask them not to give me gifts! To explain how strongly I believe in somethings, how strongly I feel about leading my life my way. This is just my way of elaborating on why perhaps I was uncomfortable when a friend gifted a toy to my Sunny boy , or why we often gift kids with money than toys. This also explains why we did not splurge on new furniture etc when we moved to our own house. This also explains why I carry my own shopping bags when ever I go out to shop.