24 April 2014

G is for Gothsu - Recipe for Eggplant Gothsu

My favourite pairing with Pongal is not coconut chutney or sambar but gothsu. What is this dish with a mildly tongue twister of a name, you might wonder! Hardly a favourite in my childhood, this is one of my newer loves. The aroma of brinjal roasting on the stove top is one of the strongest smells in a vegetarian kitchen, the other may be garlic being sautéed. Sometimes I can smell this when I'm a good distance away from my kitchen. You can love or hate this smoky, intense aroma but you can definitely not ignore it.

Gothsu is a tamarind based South Indian (Tambrahm, or may be made by other communities as well) curry that is made using roasted and mashed brinjal. Apparently, this dish was first made by the priests in Chidambaram temple to be served along with rice as an offering to the resident deity, which is why it is also known as Chidambaram Gothsu. While one way of preparing the dish is by roasting the eggplant (as in this recipe), the other method is to fry the eggplant till soft and use in the same manner. That gives a more oily pickle-chutney kind of dish.

There are variations to this recipe in which the same recipe can also be made using tomatoes or onions. Like I said, this tangy, smoky curry is the best companion for a Venn Pongal, which is a savoury dish made using rice and split yellow moong dal. If you don't have pongal on the menu, it is also quite good with plain steamed rice. 

This post is a part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. 
Hope you've enjoyed my earlier posts:A is for AvialB is for Beans Paruppu UsiliC is for Chow ChowD is for DosaE is for Ellu Saadham 
F is for Fenugreek seeds - Vendhaya Kozhambu

Recipe for Kathrikkai Gothsu (eggplant gothsu)
Serves 3

1 large eggplant (brinjal) ~500 grams
1 tbsp oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp chana dal
1 tsp udad dal
1 sprig curry leaves
2-3 dried red chillies
1 pinch asafoetida
2 tsp tamarind paste or ½ cup thin tamarind puree
1.5 tsp rice flour dissolved in ¼ cup water
2 tsp sambar powder dissolved in ¼ cup water
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt

Smear oil on the eggplant and roast it on open flame until completely charred and soft inside. You can test this by inserting a knife or a skewer inside. 
Once cool enough to handle, peel the skin, mash the eggplant and keep aside. Discard the stalk and skin.
In a kadai, heat the oil. Temper the mustard seeds. Add the chana dal, udad dal and sauté until golden. 
Add the red chillies, curry leaves, asafoetida and give it a quick stir. 
Add the tamarind paste / puree, rice flour in water and sambar powder in water. 
Bring this to a simmer. 
Add the salt, eggplant puree, turmeric powder and bring to a simmer again.
The consistency will be of a thick gravy, due to the thickening effect of rice flour.
Serve hot with pongal or steamed rice.

15 April 2014

F is for Fenugreek seeds | Recipe for Vendhaya Kozhambu

Fenugreek Seeds in Indian cuisine play the role of a character artist in Bollywood cinema. They'll never get as much attention as the lead role but the subtle flavours you'll remember well after your meal is over. It's amazing how the seeds taste completely different from the leaves, which have an intensely beautiful fragrance. I always feel how Methi Theplas have a way of telling the whole neighbourhood that they are being made in some kitchen. 

Fenugreek seeds are one of the ingredients used in sambar-powder. Coriander seeds, dried red chillies, fenugreek seeds, chana dal are roasted one after the other until aromatic and then ground together into a powder and stored in an airtight container. In case of these seeds, less is more. Add a little and it imparts a unique flavour to the dish, like a hint of complex flavours on your taste buds. Add too much, and it's bitter and quite unpleasant. 

This is also a secret ingredient regular soaked along with udad dal to prepare idlis. Word is that they make the idlis softer. Personally, I feel it's also a taste improver. It is also said that dosas turn a lovely golden colour when there are fenugreek seeds in the batter. 

While it's not a traditional Tambrahm thing to do with fenugreek seeds, I like to soak and sprout them and use a few of these sprouts in salads. These are incredibly rich in all vitamins and minerals. As they have a slightly bitter taste, they pair very well with dressings that have a tinge of sweetness in them. You can sow the seeds in a shallow tray and in a few days the small leaves that shoot out can also be used as microgreens for a salad - something very fancy from something very earthy.

Methi / fenugreek seeds are have excellent health benefits. Studies have shown that fenugreek seeds reduce fasting and postprandial blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. Fenugreek appears to slow absorption of sugars in the stomach and stimulate insulin production, both of which are responsible for lowering blood sugar in diabetics.  While it's surely not a substitute for oral medications or insulin, it's a useful food to add to a daily diet. It is also one of the natural galactogouges - ie. substances that increase breast milk production, which is why traditionally in some Indian communities, these are made into Methi Laddoos which the new mother has during her breast feeding days.

I remember once, soaking and grinding these seeds to a paste after reading that they make an excellent hair conditioner. The paste was extremely slimy but I was adventurous enough to apply it on my hair anyway. I had to spend over an hour to wash off all the husk and slime from my hair and that's the only thing I remember, which is why I never repeated this exercise in vanity again and decided it is best to use in the kitchen!

Coming to Vendhaya Kozhambu, Kozhambu is typically a saucy South Indian curry, flavoured with tamarind extract, had with plain steamed rice. Vetthakozhambu is probably the most popular kozhambu varieties - and served in some restaurants as well. Here the key ingredient is sun-dried berries or sun-dried vegetables (vetthal) that are deep fried and added to the sauce. In Venthaya kozhambu, the main ingredient is fenugreek seeds. The kozhambu stays well for a couple of days in the fridge (especially if you don't add any vegetables to it) and the fenugreek seeds soak up the liquids and take on a sweet-sour flavour. Since the flavours of a kozhambu are quite strong, it is not used in as much quantity as a sambar. Also, it is a perfect rice accompaniment to make when you are short of time or too lazy to cook dal. Do try this uniquely South Indian curry and let me know how you liked it!

This post is a part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. 
Hope you've enjoyed my earlier posts:A is for AvialB is for Beans Paruppu UsiliC is for Chow ChowD is for DosaE is for Ellu Saadham 

Recipe for Venthaya Kozhambu | Fenugreek seeds in a tamarind sauce
Serves 2-3

1/8th cup tightly packed tamarind
1 cup hot water
2 tbsp gingelly oil
sprig of curry leaves
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 dried red chillies
1 tbsp tur dal
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
1/2 cup sliced carrots or diced yellow pumpkin
2 tsp sambar powder
1 tsp rice flour
1 tsp jaggery
1 tsp salt

Soak the tamarind in 1 cup hot water for 10 minutes. Squeeze out all the extract well-discard the tamarind parts and reserve the extracted liquid. You can use 1/2 tbsp tamarind paste instead of this, if you are short of time.
In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the oil. Gingelly oil gives the best flavour to kozhambu but in case you don't have it, use any neutral flavoured cooking oil.
Add the curry leaves, dried red chillies, mustard seeds, tur dal, asafoetida to the oil. When the seeds splutter and tur dal turns golden brown, add the fenugreek seeds. Saute for 30 seconds or so, until they turn aromatic and then add the vegetable. Don't allow the fenugreek seeds to become brown as it will make the dish very bitter.
 Saute the vegetable being used for 1 minute or so. To this add the tamarind extract (or the paste dissolved in 3/4 cup of water), bring to a boil. 
Once it comes to a boil, reduce flame, cover and simmer until vegetables are soft- around 5-7 minutes.
Make a slurry of rice flour and sambar powder in water. Add this to the kozhambu along with salt and jaggery. Let this come to a simmer. The consistency will be a slightly thick sauce that you can pour easily. Check for seasonings, remove from flame. Let it rest for a couple of hours for the flavours to develop fully. Serve with steaming hot rice. Slurp.

Lunch menu:
Venthaya kozhambu + steamed rice + a little gingelly oil
Cabbage curry or carrot curry
Roasted papad

13 April 2014

E is for Ellu / Sesame seeds | Recipe for Ellu Saadham / Sesame Rice

Padhinettam Perukku, also called Aadi Perukku, is celebrated on the 18th day of the Tamil month, Aadi (mid-July to mid-August roughly), indicating the start of monsoons. Padhinettu means 18 and Perukku means 'rising' and on this day, the rivers are swollen with water from the rains. I've heard stories from my great-grandmother on how they would pack tiffin carriers full of different kinds of rice dishes and enjoy a picnic on the banks of the village river. The different rice varieties are prepared as an offering for the river goddess. Lemon rice, coconut rice, tamarind rice, sweet rice, curd rice and of course my favourite, sesame rice are some of the types of rice dishes prepared on this day. Of course, in smaller families in the city, families choose to prepare 2-3 kinds of rice along with meal finale-ie. curd rice. Even to this day, my family believes that on this day, there will always be heavy rainfall, and co-incidence or whatever, the rain gods do stick to their predictions!

Since when I was a child, I was a fan of all the rice varieties- or kalandha saadham as it is called in Tamil. Usually, there would be a koottu and some plain rice too along with these on the menu and of course, fried appalams and vadams to go with the kalandha saadham. Although sesame is quite a complex flavour, I have been in love with all dishes made using sesame seeds, right since childhood. Ellu-urundai or sesame seed chikki (praline) shaped as balls are prepared on the srardham (thevasam) days to remember the deceased ancestors. As a kid, I have asked my grandmother why she made this only on those special days. Needless to say, my such questions were not appreciated in those days :D Subbu's Kitchen writes more on the thevasam recipes that includes my favourite, ellu-urundai. 

A few years ago, when I was on a holiday in Hong Kong, I fell in love with black sesame seed ice cream. I had never imagined that this could be an ice cream flavour!

Sesame seeds also feature in this special dish called Thalagam, also made on specific festival day called Thiruvadharai. The toasted sesame seeds are ground to a paste along with roasted coconut, udad dal, fenugreek seeds, rice and red chillies to make an intensely fragrant masala. This makes the 'curry' really thick without any addition of dal. Think of it as a sambar variety minus the dal and completely unique flavours. The only way to taste this is to invite yourself to a Tambrahm friend's house or make it yourself. I don't think there are any restaurants that have this on their menu.

Coming to the recipe of Ellu Saadham, sesame seeds are dry roasted till they pop. This is ground to a coarse powder with some other spices, to prepare the mix. Rice is steamed and cooled and to the cooled rice, the freshly prepared podi is added and gently mixed together. The tadka of curry leaves and red chillies with some udad dal for crunch is of course mandatory :)

Recipe for Ellu Saadham / Sesame Rice
Serves 2

2 cups cooked rice
3 dried red chillies
2 tsp udad dal
2 tbsp white sesame seeds
1/2 tsp salt

For tempering:
2 tsp gingelly oil or vegetable oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
1-2 tsp udad dal
sprig of curry leaves

While cooking the rice, ensure that you use lesser water and reduce cooking time slightly so that the grains are separate. Once cooked, spread out to cool on a large plate / thali.
In a small kadai, using a few drops of oil, fry the red chillies and udad dal till the dal is golden is colour. Remove and keep aside. In the same kadai, sauté the sesame seeds until they emit a nice aroma and start popping. Once the popping stops, remove them along with the fried chillies and udad dal and grind to a coarse powder in the mixer along with 1/2 tsp of salt.
Spread this powder on the cooked rice.
In the same kadai, heat the oil for tempering. Once oil is hot, add mustard seeds, udad dal, curry leaves – once mustard seeds pop and udad dal is golden, transfer on the rice. Gently toss around with a flat steel spatula (so that rice is not mashed up) until the rice is coated with the spices. Serve hot along with fried vadams or appalams (papad) and a raita on the side.

This post is a part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. 

Hope you've enjoyed my earlier posts:
A is for Avial
B is for Beans Paruppu Usili

C is for Chow Chow

D is for Dosa

11 April 2014

Top 10 summer recipes from Saffron Trail

Summer is upon us in most parts of India. It's that time of the year, the best of cooking enthusiasts want to spend the least time in the kitchen. Here are some of the most popular summer recipes from Saffron Trail blog all listed down in one place for your convenience. 

Masala Moar - This is the perfect way to stay cool in the summer with a hint of spice and no calories from sugar. Prepare it in an earthen pot and keep it covered with a wet cloth so it stays naturally cool in the summers.

Panakam - This Ram Navami special, made in many South Indian homes, just at the onset of summer combines spices like ginger and cardamom along with jaggery as a sweetener. You must try this one out.

Bottlegourd Raita - Gourds are mostly water and when combined with the cooling properties of yogurt, this makes an easy side dish for summers.

Khamang Kakdi - One of my favourite from Maharashtrian cuisine, features the best vegetable for summers, ie. Cucumbers. Although it is served in one corner of the thali, i'd rather sit down with a big bowl of this for my lunch.

Watermelon Feta Salad - Watermelon makes summers more bearable - naturally juicy, sweet and delicious, what's not to love. Learn to make this salad that sounds all gourmet but is perfectly simple, once you master how to dice a watermelon without any seeds, which you can learn from my youtube video. 

Middle Eastern cold salad - Try this potato cauliflower salad, best eaten chilled in a tahini dressing. You can serve this with couscous (which again needs no cooking) and a quick chickpea stew. 

Foxtail Millet Salad - How about upping the fiber and health quotient of your salad by tossing in some super grains ie. foxtail millet? Add a good bulk to your salad and keeps you filled up for a long time.

Instant rice sevai - Summers means you want to be in and out of the kitchen in minutes. Instant rice noodles available in most South Indian grocery stores come to your help in times like these. Breakfast in under five minutes (and it's not cereal)!

Coriander Chutney - Keep a bottle of this green chutney handy in the fridge to make delicious Mumbai sandwiches with some sliced cucumbers, boiled potatoes and onions.

No-Bake Cheesecake - Although my recipe is for strawberry cheesecake, simply replace strawberries with seasonal mangos and you have an easy mango cheesecake without turning on the oven.


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