Saturday, 30 June 2012

Another Kerala quickie

True to our "About us" page, I am making this post about the versatile Kanji (rice porridge). Kanji for any Keralite is comfort food. It is originally considered poor man's food, as it is nothing but rice boiled with an excess of water and the starchy water is also consumed with the rice: an instant energy giving carbs whammy.
For a foodie, this basic main dish gives scope for endless add-ons and sides. Common accompaniments are Payaru (a variety of slender green beans), pickles, Chamanthi (Coconut chutney/paste), Pappadam. Any or all of these are served with Kanji. In this post: Kanji + Chamanthi, the latter being the more elaborate preparation.

This meal for two is again a twenty to twenty five minute affair, discounting the time for shallot peeling and coconut grating. The time for these two things really depend on your skill and practice- alternatively buy peeled shallots and get someone else to grate the coconut. 

Start off. Get the Kanji going first. Wash 4/5 Cup rice and 1/5 Cup Mung dal together in a pot. Yes, I add some lentils to my Kanji as well for a little creamy texture. Fill pot with water and set on the stove.

For "The Coconut Chutney with Charred Shallots and Chilli" you will need:
- 12-15 peeled Shallots
- Half a grated Coconut
- 3 or 4 dry Red chillies
- 3/4 Tsp Tamarind paste
- Coconut oil for dipping
- Salt

The shallots and the red chillies have to be charred on a flame first. Skewer the shallots on a fork like so...
Then dip the fork into coconut oil and take out. Let the oil drip off and hold the onions over a flame. They will crackle and burn brilliantly like so..
For the first time you make this, just char them until this point. If you like the smokey taste you could char it a little more the next time
Put the charred shallots into the jar of your blender. Repeat the same with the chillies- skewer, dip, char. Add them to the blender with salt and the tamarind paste.
Remember to remove the stem portion of the chillies, add the grated coconut and blend. Add a tablespoon or two of water as required. Use as little water as your blender can manage; water on fiery roasted spices is literally a dampener.

At this point the Kanji must be ready and you can just add salt to it and serve. I, however, went a little extra mile. Take a tablespoon of cooking (unsalted) butter in a wok and heat it till it has clarified, not just melted. It must be smoking quite profusely. Take off the heat, sprinkle in some chilli flakes and salt. Give the wok a shake and add its contents to the kanji. Ladle out some kanji into the wok to get all the remaining butter and spices and add it back to the pot. Stir well and serve with the chamanthi.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Express Kerala dinner

When this blog contains many many posts which have to be organised with various combinations of labels and tags, you will find this recipe under "basic", "simple", "quick dinners" and the like. I actually started making this yummy meal after we began to get hungry. I have a strict policy of not calling call my own cooking yummy, but for this post I allow myself because it is a 100% handed down recipe and I promise I shall transmit any credit that this dinner gets faithfully to mommy dearest. I will call it Kerala lentil stew with ash gourd (Ehh..) to save you the trouble of learning the actual Malayalam name.
Twenty minutes, twenty five if you are slow and finicky about too many vessels and mess like me. Go ahead, time yourself.
For a meal for two you will need:
- One cup rice
- 3/4 Cup Mung dal
- 300gm Ash gourd (Indian name white pumpkin)
- Two or three green chillies
- 1/2 Tsp Turmeric powder (Haldi)
- Two Tbsp Coconut oil
- 8-10 Curry leaves
- Salt

Wash the rice in a pot, add water to fill the pot. Set on the stove and let the rice cook. Meanwhile, discard the seed portion of the ash gourd and peel it as well. Cut into cubes and put in a cooker. Wash and add the mung dal to the cooker. Add enough water in the cooker to just cover the dal and vegetable. Add salt, turmeric powder, slit green chillies and set on the stove with the weight on. When the first steam goes lower the flame to the minimum. When the second steam goes, turn off the flame and let it stand. Attend to the rice (ask me how if you don't know) and keep it aside when done. Once the pressure in the cooker has let up, open it and give it a stir or two to mash up the lentils. Add about 3/4 cup of plain water, mix well and let it come to a simmer. Take a whiff of the dal and notice how plain it smells. 
The next 20 seconds completes your meal with a flourish. Rip the curry leaves bunch in two and keep ready. Take the coconut oil in a deep metal ladle and hold it over a low flame to heat it very mildly (@ North Indians: this is not a tadka. Heat very mildly!). Drop the curry leaves into the ladle and then stir the contents of the ladle into the simmering dal. Take another whiff of the entirely morphed flavour. Serve with rice and absolutely any south Indian pickle.
The picture is only perfunctory.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Dip, spread or mix

This is a sort of three-in-one recipe, but you need to choose which of the three you want to end up with at the outset. Saturday tea-time without munchies is oh-so-annoying. Those were the circumstance in which the subject of this post was born. After the Siesta, we wondered "Coffee with what?". There was a fresh unopened packet of plain crackers, but we could obviously not have just that with coffee for Saturday afternoon. Hence we made the below Caramelised onion dip.

Caramalised Onion dip with plain crackers
You will need:
-one small or half a large Onion
-two tablespoons of sunflower oil or other neutral tasting cooking oil
-three table spoons plain set Yogurt (the one that comes in a carton and never goes sour)
-25-50gms of any soft Cheese (regular mozarella or chedder)
-five Black pepper corns
-a teaspoon of dry Oregano or three leaves of fresh Basil (both yield distinct tastes to the dish)

There is the core recipe which I will run through first. 
Grate the cheese and keep aside. This will give it time to get soft. Slice the onions as finely as you can. Don't run it through the food processor to get fine but shapeless pieces. Use a knife and slice finely. In a skillet heat the oil and swirl it around to cover the base and then "place" in the onion slices. Avoid crowding them too much, the more spread the better. 
Now, if you have been wondering why I didn't say extra virgin olive oil, which would make it appropriately fancy for this dish, here is the reason. Extra virgin olive oil is known to have an excellent flavour, several health benefits and is hence fairly expensive. What is less known however is that this flavour (and the health benefits) literally go up in smoke when the oil is heated. It is an utter waste to use this oil for caramelising (culinary term for burning) anything. Back to the onions.
So there isn't much stirring around to be done while caramelising. Just leave the slices where they were placed and watch closely. When you can see them browning, wait for a minute more and then flip the pieces to brown the other side. Once evenly brown (fairly dark brown), take out the slices onto a kitchen towel or tissue paper to let the oil drip off and cool.
Meanwhile, in a bowl take the yogurt, softened cheese, salt and crushed pepper. I always write pepper corns instead of pepper powder in recipes because I always crush them in a mortar just before use. It takes 30 seconds more and makes a huge difference in flavour. Use a hand mixer and whip the mixture for 30 seconds until creamy. Add in the caramelised onions and the herb you are using, dry oregano or fresh basil leaves snipped with scissors, and mix with a spoon (don't run the mixer, the onion stripes will act as whips and make a mess... yes it happened to me). The dip version is ready. Serve with crackers or an unhealthier option would be chips.

The spread version has to be thicker. Increase the amount of cheese and hang the yogurt before use. Increase amount of spices too. If you don't know about hanging yogurt ask me in the comments :). This will yield a thicker consistency, that can be spread on toast or in sandwiches.

The last of the three is to use this as a salad dressing. Loosen the dip version with a little milk, half and half or cream. Increase amount of spices and you want to add one other spice as well: just red chilly flakes and/or some crushed garlic cloves are good options. After tossing the salad, add half a teaspoon of white vinegar.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Indonesian? Thai? Japanese?

Actually all three. When the Bali vacation hangover refuses to leave you alone and when you stubbornly decide to appease it with Indonesian food, there is always the reality check of the local supermarket. All Asian ingredients on one rack (as if Indian is not Asian!) . Thai flat rice noodles it is. I set out making this with no concrete recipe in mind. Only the general direction of the flavour I wanted to get (East). The result was the pleasant surprise shown below. A fairly non-fussy meal to whip up even at the end of a tiring day at work.

You will need:
- Thai flat rice noodles (sticks)
- one Onion
- two medium Carrots
- two small Peppers of any colour (capsicum)
- one inch piece Ginger 
- four large leaves of Basil (yes.. it's from the back yard :))
- three cloves of Garlic
- eight Black Peppercorns (lesser for a milder taste)
- Red chilly flakes (can be left out for milder taste)
- one tablespoon crunchy Peanut butter
- two heaped teaspoons of Red miso paste
- Rock salt
- two tablespoons Sesame oil
- two fairly hungry or three mildly hungry people

Thinly slice the vegetables. Chop ginger fine, snip basil leaves and put them in a mortar along with the pepper corns, peeled garlic cloves, some rock salt and chilly flakes if using. Do not crush yet! Keep the miso paste and peanut butter our of the fridge. 
Now, here is a thing about peanut butter. You could either purchase the jar that the supermarket sells, of which you never checked the ingredients label or for literally a third of the price you could get peanut butter by running roasted peanuts with two teaspoon of any oil in your blender. Yes! This is all that peanut butter actually is.
Back to the noodles.

Start making:
Use a wide wok (kadai) as you have quite some tossing and stirring to do. Heat the oil and add onions, carrots and the peppers in that order at intervals of just half a minute. Plop in the peanut butter and the red miso paste and stir well to coat all the vegetables. Add a tablespoon or two of water to loosen the paste to better coat the veggies. You can adjust the water at this point. You don't want a very runny sauce. Reduce the flame to the least possible. In a separate pot, pour hot (not boiling) water on the rice noodles and let them cook. Rice noodles don't need to be cooked on flame. Crush your spices in the mortar with a pestle now. The veggies would be just done. Stir the spice mix into the sauce and adjust the salt to taste. Turn off the flame quickly. Drain the noodles and toss them with the sauce in the wok. Thai noodles in peanut and red miso sauce. Bon appetit!