Sunday, December 30, 2007

Crushed Peanuts

dANyAcha kUT

Focus on Crushed Peanuts
This picture is my entry to the Click event: Powdered peanuts ready for cooking are the focus here, with the peanuts a step below, and peanuts in their shell in the bokeh.

Peanuts are a staple in Marathi food and in a few other regional Indian cuisines as well, in many different forms, but the most common way of using them is either crushed or powdered. They are used in koshimbirs and salads, (a few recipes should be coming up), sabudana khichadi (a quick version of which is already a favorite) and other food that is eaten for fasts, for stuffings and gravies (not of the Thanksgiving variety!), in various snacks like besan coated, spiced and fried peanuts, and even in sweets. The list can go on.

In India, we used to buy the peanuts with the skin on them, which were then roasted at home in a thick kadhai. This caused the skin to blister and get brittle. When cooled, the peanuts were rubbed between palms to remove the skin, and then the skin could be separated from the nuts and discarded. The peanuts were then ready to be used for cooking. In the days before electrical gadgets, a large batch of the peanuts were pounded in a stone mortar to get a coarse powder which was then stored to be used.

Here, I buy roasted peanuts, which I quickly pulse a few times in the food processor as required. I rarely make a large batch to keep, just because it is so convenient to make some when I need it.

For times when you don't have a food processor, or might be too bothered to wash the bowls, there comes a tip from a friend who often reads this blog and sometimes comments. She says that you can put the requisite amount of peanuts in a strong 'ziplock' style plastic bag, close the bag after removing any excess air, lay it flat, and use a rolling pin to crush the peanuts inside the bag as coarse or fine as you like. Voila, powdered peanuts ready to be used in Maharashtrian and other dishes. I have tried it, and it really works well.

Focus on Peanuts
This is a picture with the peanuts in focus, and is not an entry to the Click event.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

First Blogiversary

Jangiri in the South, Imarti in the North

A year ago I took the first step towards making this blog a reality by writing my first post. For months before that, I had several ideas on what I wanted to write, and had even registered the blog name, but as days and weeks went by, I wasn't sure if I should really write what I wanted to. Then finally, I decided that could just try it out and see how it goes, and before I knew it, a year has already flown by.

I have to thank everyone who has been associated with the blog in any way, especially those who stop by with comments, and those who spread the word via links, and last but not least, my non-blogging friends who use the recipes from here and are always sweet enough to let me know when they do.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Apple Corer

Apple Corer

The 'Apple Corer' was among the first single function kitchen items I bought, purely for its novelty value more than anything else. Yet, I find myself reaching for this little tool so often that I thought I should do a post about it, especially now that apple season is upon us. The corer is to be held vertically, with sharp side down, to core out the seedy middle that is generally not eaten or used. After that, the apple can be peeled if needed, and sliced or chopped as required.

I make this Apple Chutney, and also an Apple Pickle about once a year. Other than that, I use apples in various salads, and sometimes for baking, but primarily for eating on their own, sliced. It might look as though it is one additional thing to wash, but it it not that significant an effort, and so well worth it.

There are also tools that core and wedge apples at the same time, that are likely to be just as useful, but I have not convinced myself yet that I need one of those. In the meanwhile, this works!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Apple Apricot and Fig Chutney

One good substitution deserves another

Food bloggers can be admirably observant at times. For instance, consider the picture of a plateful of food, with poori and bhaji as stars of the post, and yet, what two of my favorite bloggers, Richa and Bee asked me was about the tiny speck of Apple Chutney, which was nearly hidden under a papad! Giving them the recipe was the easy part, but if I had to post it, then an unwritten requirement was to take a halfway decent photo of it, and that meant I needed a fresh batch of it, since I was already out of it.

The original recipe is from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking, and called 'Apple, Peach and Apricot Chutney' translated into Hindi as 'sev, aroo, aur kubani ki chutney'. Even though one should not judge food by looks alone, it was the orange hued picture of the chutney in a silver bowl that first caught my attention and made me want to try it out. I checked how many apples it called for, and set two aside to make a half batch of it. It was when I was ready to start cooking that I realized that I did not have any dried peaches. Dried apricots are usually in the pantry, but dried peaches, never. Ever so resourceful, I used dried papaya instead and proceeded, and it was a hit. It was absolutely easy to make, and it was evident that the quantities of the seasonings could be easily adjusted according to taste.

The next time, I didn't have any dried papaya, so I used dried figs from India, you know, those types that come in the form of discs on some sort of a string, most often seen in the Diwali dry fruit boxes wrapped with yellow cellophane? I don't particularly like those, and don't remember how they landed home, but they were sitting for a long time, so they were put to good use in the chutney in place of the dried papaya, I mean, peaches. So that's the story of the chutney that the ladies spotted in the picture.

Now with the bounty of delicious local fall and winter apples here, that is what I decided to make, but this time, I didn't have any dried figs on hand either! So I went to buy some and was staring at the Black Mission and Calimyrna, thinking what a difficult choice this was, did a eena-meena-mina-mo on them, and went for the Calimyrnas. The apples I used were Jonagolds, but nearly any type of apple works here just fine.

Apple Chutney with Apricots, Raisins, and Figs

Apple Apricot and Fig (or Peach or Papaya) Chutney

About 4 cups chutney


1/2 kg apples (4-5 medium sized apples)
3/4 cup dried apricots
3/4 cup dried figs
1/2 cup golden raisins
4 cloves garlic
2 X 1 inch cube ginger
1-1/2 cups white vinegar
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper


Core, peel, and chop the apples. Chop the dried figs and apricots into pieces as large or small as you like. Mince the garlic, and grate the ginger.

Combine all the ingredients in a medium sized stainless steel pan, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook for about 30-40 minutes until it reaches a thick consistency similar to jam. Stir occasionally if required to prevent sticking.

Let it cool in the pan for some time. It will thicken slightly more as it cools. Let cool completely before filling into a jar.

Notes, Substitutions

  • The above recipe is what I have made, with changes to the original. I have reduced the amount of garlic a little, and increased the amount of cayenne pepper.
  • The original recipe uses white wine vinegar, but I use white distilled vinegar or apple cider vinegar. The vinegar could fume during cooking, so make sure to turn on the exhaust or keep a window open.
  • I have reduced the amount of sugar significantly from the original, and yet it is somewhat sweet in taste, but the sugar is required for preserving the chutney for a longer period. I have been able to keep the chutney in good condition for a few months without having to refrigerate it.

Taking a cue from a certain new cookbook title, this chutney is tangy, tart, hot and sweet! It should also come with a warning that there is a danger that this chutney might be consumed in side dish quantities rather than as a condiment, but that should be alright, considering that it contains things that are mostly good for you.

Friday, December 07, 2007

'That' Methi Dal

Trying to recreate something from the past

It all started when a friend and I were talking and sharing our memories of hiking in the Sahyadris. Anyone who has ever hiked there knows of the joys - of walking through the hills in the rains, through the lush green grass, and the chipik chipik mud, of the smell of the pure air, the cool monsoon breezes, and of the rush of reaching the end of a trail or the top of a peak, or fort. Even though we did not know each other during our hiking days it turned out that we had been to many of the same trails and forts. So on we talked, of the people, the camaraderie, and of course the food, or lack thereof. I usually took food from home, as did most other people, and we usually shared it with our co-hikers, sometimes stopping whenever we were hungry, and sometimes waiting for everyone to get to the top to share our dabbas.

My friend spoke with great nostalgia about a spicy methi with dal and lots of green chilies that she had eaten with bhakris on one such trip. Even though it had been several years since then, she called it one of the best methichi bhaaji she had ever had. The person who had brought it happened to be a peon at her workplace, so there was not a chance of getting the recipe. It wasn't something I could relate to immediately, but started to have faint recollections of having eaten something similar somewhere too. Couldn't place it, and yet it seemed familiar.

Sometime after that conversation, I went to Bangalore during a visit to India, and friends of mine who live there took us out to eat a bhakri meal, or jolada roti as they called it, which is common in the northern parts of Karnataka close to the border with Maharashtra. The traditional meal came served on a banana leaf, and one of the things on it was what I thought could have been the dal-methi my friend had talked about! Here it is in the picture below, in the top right corner.

Northern Karnataka meal on banana leaf

After I came back here, I had more clues as to what to expect in terms of the taste, with the experience still fresh in my mind. I looked through some of my cookbooks to see if they had anything and Ruchira, the marathi cookbook had a recipe for something similar that used moong dal, but what I recalled was toor. So I decided to give it a try with toor dal and see if it tastes like it, and it pretty much did! I send the recipe to my friend to see what she thought, and when she gave it the thumbs up, I knew it was a success.

This dish is somewhere between a dal and a bhaji and is a very basic, rustic dish. It is neither runny nor dry and tastes great with bhakris. My guess is that it tastes best when made on a slow coal fire, and is probably cooked when methi is plentiful and in season, but cannot go far enough, which is why the dal is used to make it more substantial and economical.

Methi Dal

Methi and toor dal bhaaji

Serves 2 as a side, but can be scaled easily.

1/2 cup toor dal
1 big bunch of methi
2-4 green chilies (depending on size of chili and desired spiciness)
2 tablespoons of oil
salt to taste
pinch of sugar (optional)

Rinse the dal a few times and soak it in warm water for 5-6 hours.

Split the chilies into 2 along the length.

Just before cooking, drain the dal. In a large pan or wok, heat the oil, and add the chilies to it. Add the dal, stir it around in the oil, add 1 cup of water, and bring it to a boil. Place a lid on the pan and lower the heat. Let the dal cook until it is tender, adding more water as required. This could take somewhere between 30-40 minutes.

In the meanwhile, clean the methi, plucking the leaves and throwing away the stalks. Wash, spin, and chop the leaves fine.

When the dal is cooked, and has absorbed all the water, add the chopped methi, salt to taste, and sugar. Let it cook for another 10-15 minutes on moderate heat, without the lid.

The dal could be cooked in a pressure cooker too, but that would make it very soft like varan, which is not the desired consistency here.

One could also add mustard seeds and turmeric in the tadka, but I like the simplicity of the few strong ingredients.

Now 'this' humble methi dal goes to Linda, who is hosting Jihva: Toor Dal.

If any of you know what my friend could have been talking about, or have a different recipe for this, I would definitely love to hear about it.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Baby vegetables in Cilantro Lemongrass broth

The only herb that is nearly always in my fridge, and most likely in other Indian fridges too, is cilantro. The first thing I do after getting cilantro home is trim off the hard stalk portion, then wrap the leafy part in a paper towel, and this package then goes off into a plastic box, to be used as required. The cilantro stays fine for a couple of weeks.

If the stalks are particularly healthy and fresh, and if I have even a few additional minutes, one of the things I like to do instead of throwing the stalks away is to drop them into a large pan of water and bring the water to a boil. Add a few chunks of ginger either bruised by a pestle or grated, a few crushed peppercorns, some salt, and within about 15-20 minutes, a rather delicious cilantro-ginger broth is ready. Once strained, it can be sipped just by itself, or used as a base for soups, dal, or noodle dishes.

Making broth

The variations on this simple basic are endless. Sometimes I add slices of lime or lemon to it, sometimes, a bay leaf. This time I used a couple of stalks of lemongrass, roughly cut into pieces and smashed, and let those boil with everything else, infusing the broth with the characteristic flavor of lemongrass.

Baby Vegetables

To it, I added some fresh baby vegetables, such as baby carrots small enough to fit in the palm of one's hand, along with various baby squashes like zucchini, yellow crookneck, sunburst and pattypan, all so tiny that they barely needed to be halved. I let the vegetables cook in the clear stock for a few minutes until they were fork tender, garnished with a bit of finely chopped cilantro, and an austerely beautiful and surprisingly satisfying first course was ladled out.

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