Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Salad Days Are Here Again - Mango Caviar

The Refuge of Failed Experiments (a k a my workplace) rarely lets me down. Successes or failures or halfway houses between the two, I take them there, and they are cleaned out, with compliments to boot. So when I offer them something saying it looks terrible, but tastes okay, it's no wonder that they immediately rush to comfort me, saying 'it's not bad at all', or 'it's not as bad as you think', or 'it's interesting' and proceed to empty the dish.

This was one such concoction that I could not bear to put in its actual avatar on the blog, so I cartoonized it. If you have noticed, I have given the blog a makeover and it does not deserve an ugly photo. Style over substance, yes, but indulge me - and if you go by what my colleagues said, it was worth it.

Well, this dish up there is very simple to throw together. I first got to know of a mango-sago combination some eight years ago, when I started blogging and experimented with it a few times. This time, I wanted to make a salad of this dessert rather than a pudding so I literally threw a few things together and came up with this winner. Yes, a winner, even though it is not the prettiest thing I have made. A colleague has already declared dibs on it the next time I make it and one was rather disappointed that I did not bring it on a day that she came to work.

The dibs-declaring colleague named it mango caviar. She also told me that sabja, the black grains that you see in the picture, are very cooling in nature. Now isn't that all we need for this hot, hot summer? The sabja, or basil seeds, or falooda seeds, as they seem to be better known nowadays, were such a curious discovery when I was a kid. A friend showed me what happens when you put them on your tongue - they develop a grey jelly-like coating on coming into contact with moisture, and for a few days, all I did was go to the yard, plunder the tulsi (holy basil) plant for its seeds and put them on my tongue.

My interest in them was revived recently when I read about chia seeds for weight loss and thought these were the same, but soon found out they were not. I bought them just for the fun of it, though, and thought of using them in this salad.

What you need

Ripe, yellow mango, cubed: 1.5 cups
Sugar: 1.5 tsp
Sago: A handful, soaked in water for 30-40 minutes
Sabja/basil seeds: 1-2 tsp, soaked in a little water

Sprinkle the sugar over the mango, stir lightly so that the cubes are not squashed.

Boil the sago till it is transparent, drain and cool under running water. Drain again.

The basil seeds swell up as soon as they are put in the water so do this just as you are assembling the salad.

Toss them and the sago over the mango and stir lightly. Bon appetit! And may your summer be full of mangoes and other cooling agents! I'm sending this off to Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging, organised by Haalo hosted this week by Lucia of Torta di Rose

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chocolate, Dark and Drinking, Makes Flourless Brownies

In my newly-adult, newly-baking days, I had a bit of a reputation where brownies were concerned. I would make them often and their fame spread across continents. When my cousins visited from the US and the UK during that period, they would ask me to bake brownies for them and I would. My baking days now are few and far between but I've never stopped loving brownies and love the idea of dark chocolate brownies after having made them once from a box mix. When I made these a couple of days ago, I could feel it in my bones that these moist, dark chocolate-drinking chocolate brownies would be a hit, and my bones were not wrong. They were cleaned out at work, and their numbers quite diminished when I got back home and checked the container in the fridge.

These days, the motivation to experiment comes more from a restless and guilt-induced funk to exhaust the ingredients groaning under the weight of their long wait in my kitchen rather than from an appetite or curiosity about something culinary. Very slowly, I am getting better at managing waste. I am still having to buy a few things to hasten the process of using up a few other things but this time I did not mind. I bought a slab of dark chocolate to finish my drinking chocolate. I know I will be making these brownies again. Very soon.

Recently, I cleaned out my kitchen shelves for a photo op for a 52-week project I did last year. With many sighs - of guilt and relief in varying measure - I threw away a few things. Maybe I hoped the drinking chocolate would be riddled with insects. It was not. It smelled heavenly and had not turned into a lump. While I like chocolate, I'm not a fan of it in liquid form. As it happens in my case with long-unused stuff, I do not recall why I bought the drinking chocolate. Probably because it is reputed to be a soporific, and I am a raving insomniac.

I have been thinking of flourless brownies for a few months now. Every recipe I read till my patience ran out suggested almond meal. I have made flourless cakes with it earlier but some reports about enzymes in raw almonds interfering with digestion made me wary. Moreover, as I do not get almond meal but have to make it myself, and that translates into more labour, I kept looking for ways to make brownies that used drinking chocolate as a replacement for flour and almond meal. I did not find any soon enough.

So I just launched into it myself and started looking for recipes which were close. I found this. I had all the ingredients, including the coconut oil. I was not too sure about the coconut oil though I was open to using it. One resource on the Internet said the oil had to be used in solid form, but that it should not solidify by being refrigerated. The recipe, and many other coconut oil-in-brownie recipes, called for the fat to be melted along with the chocolate. So what was I to do?

I searched for butter as a replacement for coconut oil in baking. And found out that it had to be browned before it could be used because a large part of butter is water. So I browned it, strained it and set about making the brownies.

Here's how I made the brownies:


Dark chocolate chunks: Just over 1 cup
Butter, browned: Over 1/2 a cup, less than 3/4th cup
Eggs: 5 (The ones I used were small)
Sugar: A little under 1 cup
Drinking chocolate: 1 cup
Salt: 1/2 tsp
Irish Cream: 2 or 2.5 tsp


Brown the butter and set aside.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave on high for 3 minutes.

Add the butter to the chocolate and mix it lightly, it will continue to melt.

Whisk the eggs and the sugar.

Gradually, add the chocolate-browned butter mix.

Now add the drinking chocolate in ladlefuls, folding it into the mixture after every addition.

Add the salt and Irish Cream, mix.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees C for 20-25 minutes until a knife/fork/toothpick/anything else inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fridge-Cleaner Gravy with Secret Ingredient, Oil-Free

The other day, my friend S came over for lunch. We had decided earlier to make it fuss-free so we decided on pasta. I cooked the pasta and she brought the sauce. Her sauce smelt good, exactly like the soup sachets from the US I used to ask my folks to bring me now and then. When I mentioned it to her, she began telling me how she made it.

 "Tomatoes, secret ingredient, vegetable stock, ..." she started. I stared at her but she looked like she did not even notice my staring at her. "What?" I said, a little taken aback. "Secret ingredient, stock, ..." she went on, but I interrupted.

 "You won't tell me what the secret ingredient is?" I said, hoping my voice was not going hoarse with incredulousness. Could she be witholding something so simple from me? I had only heard of people witholding recipe secrets, but did they really do it? Even as I was saying it, she said, "I'll tell you what it is after you eat it, I want you to guess."

I named a vegetable, because that was what I had used myself sometime the previous week to thicken a gravy.

"Nonsense," she said, waving her hand dismissively. We then took the food to the table and even after a couple of tries, I could not guess what it was. She then revealed it to me and all I will say is that it was a cousin of the vegetable I had myself used. I will leave it to her to start her own blog and reveal her secret ingredient, but mine is zucchini.

What happened was that I had very few vegetables besides potatoes and peas. I also had a stump of yellow zucchini (or was it green, but it doesn't matter). I didn't want to eat any more takeaway, or go out to eat, so I was bent on finding something to eat at home. I wanted to make it oil-free just for the challenge. I already have some oil-free recipes on my blog, this and this, but I wanted something else.

I wanted something wholesome. I was bummed that the bulk of it would have to be potatoes, as those were the vegetables I had in the largest quantity, but I was concerned about the fat aspects of them. Other than that, I had precisely one tomato, one shallot, half a zucchini, and some peas. I had no idea how to give bulk to the curry other than crush some potatoes.

But then I had a brainwave and decided to use the zucchini, grated.

Here's how to make a fulfilling oil-free gravy, then! And guess what? It's also grindless, if you use pre-ground ginger and garlic.

Potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, cut into medium-sized pieces – 3, medium size
Shelled peas – 1 cup

Zucchini, grated - 1 cup
Cumin - 1 tsp
Ginger-garlic paste - 2 tsp 
Shallot - 1-2, minced
Tomato – 1 medium, chopped 
Green chilli – 2 (I used a bit of red chilli paste since I had that)
Turmeric – a pinch
Salt – to taste
Tamarind - 3 small pieces

Water: 1/2 cup
Garam masala/Curry powder – to taste (Optional)

Coriander - to garnish

Note: I made those other oil-free curries a long time ago and they were different, so my recipe/method here is by trial, error, estimate and guess work. So it will be idiosyncratic and inexact.

Heat a pressure pan and put the cumin in. Once it begins to darken, add the shallot and the zucchini and saute.  You have to watch it as you do, because it can get burnt very easily.

Once it begins to change,  add the green chillies and ginger garlic paste. This is an advantage because finally there is some moisture in the pan. Saute this too.

Add the tomato and mix it well with the onion-zucchini and ginger garlic paste mix. Let it cook for a while till the tomatoes get mushy. Add the turmeric.

Add the potatoes and peas and mix well to coat with the gravy in the pan. Add the tamarind, salt, garam masala and pressure cook it for 5-7 minutes or for 3-4 whistles. You can even sprinkle the garam masala later, after opening the pressure cooker. Open the pressure cooker only after the pressure drops. If you're in a hurry, put it under a running tap till the pressure falls. Close the tap, check the weight to see if the pressure has all gone and then open it.

Garnish with fresh coriander.

You can make this curry in an ordinary pan too. It will take more time.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Meandering through Monda Market, Secunderabad

I find that after having lived life to a certain length, I sometimes get confused when I see something unusual. It may well be the first time that I am coming across it but I wonder if I really have not seen it or heard of it before. Sometimes pictures and good descriptions confuse me into thinking I have actually seen it with my own eyes. A couple of weeks ago, I made a quick trip to Hyderabad to see an old friend who was visiting India after almost 10 years. She had to finish some work in Secunderabad but it was not time-bound, so we took our time wandering through the small shops and stalls in Monda Market. Soon, we came upon this

and I guessed that they were fresh chickpeas in the pod. I have only heard of them, never seen them before. (Or so I think, but no, I really have not.) My friend was amazed. She has several memories of buying them and nibbling them on the way back from school and thought they were pretty common. I did not grow up or live in any place where they are commonly available so they are a novelty to me.

So we bought some, about 250 gm, I think, and kept popping them into our mouths throughout our walk. They were not very different from the brown chickpeas soaked overnight and handed over as prasadam during the bommala koluvu held during Sankranthi or Dasara. I have been to some koluvus as a kid where the chickpeas were not processed any further, though in Tamil Nadu, the tradition is to cook and temper them (sundal) before handing them out to the guests.

See those black things on the right side of the photo? Those are water chestnuts which my friend had never seen before! I told her to try one and we shared one.

I tried getting a picture of the chickpea in its pod but this is all I could manage because by this time we were in a store and the conditions, which includes my non-mastery of my camera, did not permit anything better than this.

I hear this market is a place where you can find things that are not found easily in other places in the city, especially leaves and herbs for rituals. What you see above are coconut palm leaves woven into festoons.

I had not planned to take photos but my friend wanted them. So I got pictures of the green lotus buds, 

of this stall which sells so many things of which I can identify the betel leaves, lotuses, banana leaves and chrysanthemums.

The rhizomes behind the lotuses are probably fresh turmeric, though I only see them now, as I upload these pictures.

Don't you think this is a lovely picture with all the purples, pinks and greens?

It has been ages since I saw chrysanthemums in this colour.

And in this - I now yearn to wear some, or truth be told, just possess some.

Garlands galore!

Those are rose petals stitched into a garland.

And that's a floral plait you can use over your own.

This is one of the must-shoots in many Indian markets - kukum and turmeric. Often, one finds kumkum in various colours as well.

My friend likes papayas, and wanted a shot of these.

And these are colours for rangoli, quite in demand in the Sankranthi season.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

LessWord Wednesday - 2

Find of the week: Split horse gram dal. I made horse gram podi/chutney powder with it, with mint and coriander.

It looks better cartoonized.

What goes into it:

About as much coriander and mint as you can see in the photos below, washed well and fried in one spoon of oil
 A few pieces of garlic, fried in the same pan that the greens were fried in

 Roast these one by one and cool:
 9 tbsps of horse gram dal
7-8 red chillies
1.5 tbsp coriander seed
Important: We need a lime-sized ball of tamarind, seen nowhere in these pictures.

Grind the dal, chillies, coriander seeds, tamarind and fried garlic.
Add the fried coriander and mint leaves.
Grind again.
Add salt and mix.

Goes well with rice, idli and I'm sure with a lot of other things. When I try it I'll let you know.
This post goes to Simona at Briciole who is hosting Susan's My Legume Love Affair, now managed by Lisa.