April 24, 2012

"Ama Odia Thali" (A hearty vegetarian Odia meal) Highlight: "Mitha Khechudi"



Five years ago, I wouldn't have ever imagined myself preparing a traditional Odia thali - that's mostly because I have always been the venturous kinds, finding myself playing with new ingredients and untried stuff.Tried and tested recipes were for "traditional" people.Or so I thought - until this whole idea of preparing a thali was seeded with the Indian Thali Mela, which gives a unique platform for food bloggers all over India to represent their own states. That's when I decided that I want to represent Odisha. 

The aroma and the taste of each morsel of a traditional dish evokes such strong emotions that can only be experienced.My very own time-machine you see. I have been wanting to prepare this Thali for quite sometime now, particularly since its been very busy at work lately. So last Sunday was one of the few Sundays I got some time for myself after a long time. Feeling well rested and armed with a strong desire to make it happen..I took upon myself to make a traditional Odia "Arua" thali. "Arua" refers to dishes which do not have any garlic or onion for religious reasons.This thali is mostly prepared on Thursdays and Sundays, for those were the days no non-veg was allowed into the house. So my first phone call was to my Ma and after a lot of consultancy and given my time constraints,we decided upon a menu.This is my mini-version of the Odia thali which is influenced by the "Chhapanna bhog" (56 offering) or the "Mahaprasad" offered to Lord Jagannath in the Puri Jagannath temple.

The Lord Jagannath temple of Puri needs no introduction to many of us but those of you wanting an introduction- its one of the "Char Dhams" that a Hindu is needed to make in a lifeitme. I wouldn't go into the history over here but will definitely try to represent the significance of Lord Jagannath for anyone born or brought up in Odisha. There's a mandatory visit to the Jagannath temple every year that I return home to India. No visit of mine has been complete without visiting the temple and to the "Ananda Bazaar". "Ananda Bazaar" is the food market within the temple premises which sells the "Mahaprasad" to devotees. The aroma of the deliciously cooked prasad is irresistible and divine and this is an attempt to recreate it at home.

All items in this menu are without any garlic and onion in line with the demands of "arua" days and various permutations and combinations of the thali is possible.The menu is as follows

-"Mitha Khechudi" - Sweetened rice-lentil pilaf, fragrant with whole spices

-"Butta Dali Dalma" - A highly nutritious dish made of split chick peas and veggies with a traditional tadka of cumin, a traditional cumin-red chilli spice mix and coconut.

-"Dahi Baigan" - An eggplant and yogurt raita with a tempering of mustard seeds and chillies.

-"Tamato Khatta" - A sweet & sour instant pickle of tomatoes with dates and chillies.

-"Kheeri" - Traditional sweet rice pudding fragrant with rose water, saffron and nuts.

-"Lembu,luna aau kancha lanka" - A wedge of lemon, salt and green chili

All of the recipes will come in eventually with different posts. Here's the first of the list - "Mitha Khechudi".

 "Mitha Khechudi"
Sweetened rice-lentil pilaf fragrant with whole spices.

This rice and lentil pilaf is a fragrant with nutmeg powder is the sweetened version of the "khichdi" which is a well known comfort food in most parts of India.The crunchiness of cashews imparts a nutiness that elevates this simple dish to a different level altogether.

Ingredients:

1 cup Rice
1/4th cup Split yellow moong dal
1/2 Tbsp Ghee or oil
1 small stick of Cinnamon
2 cloves of Clove
1 Bay leaf
1 Whole cardamom
Handful of cashews and raisins.
2 1/2 cups of warm water (Adjust according to rice)
3/4th Tbsp Sugar (Adjust according to taste)
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
1/2 tsp Nutmeg powder

Method:

1. Wash and soak the rice and lentils together for about 20 mins.

2. Add ghee to the pan and when its warm, add in the whole spices.Once the spices turn fragrant, add in the cashews and raisins. Stir till light brown.

3. Strain the rice and lentil mixture thoroughly and mix it with the spices.Stir the rice mixture for 2-3 mins till very lightly browned. The rice tends to stick so keep stirring.

4. Add in 2 1/2 cups of warm water to the rice.Sprinkle the sugar, salt, turmeric powder and nutmeg powder and boil for 20 mins until done.


Variation: This dish can very easily be made in minutes with a pressure cooker. Use the same procedure as above and wait for 2 whistles.

This is one of my favorite warm comfort foods that parallels khichdi in taste and surpasses it in memory. It's simple, warm and packed with flavor for any occasion needing that kind of special attention. Serve it with a side dish or just by itself- it promises to satisfy you nonetheless.

Keep an eye for later posts with dishes from this thali.

Love & luck!
J

P.s: Apart from Indian Thali Mela, I am submitting this recipe to:
- "Cooking with Love- Mom" by Nithu and Sara.
- "Heirloom Recipes:Kitchen Chronicles" by Sara and Kalyani.
- "Walk through memory lane" event - Rasi and Gayatri
- " Mom's recipes" event - hosted by Sravs.
 - "Show me your hits:Rice" hosted by Sangee and Vardhini.


April 19, 2012

Chinese cuisine with Indian flare -Chilli Garlic Chow Mein



Nothing quite compares to the din and bustle of a busy Indian street. Adding to it are the ever bustling food corners scattered all around the place. I have almost always failed to resist the temptation of giving in to my evil desire of eating some slurpilacious (oh yes…I made that word up!) good food out on the streets! If you ever noticed one of those “Chinese” stalls around, they seem to be so much at ease tossing those noodles high up in the air and catching our attention and the noodles- both with remarkable dexterity. Compounding the desire is the whiff of a complex blend of sauces wafting in through the air, through our nostrils, directly to the tummy. 
Sigh! 
At times I sorely I miss those tastes, smells and of course, the sounds! But to my pleasure I can always look back and say that I have learnt how to make these and can always satisfy my craving –of course sans the sounds and the dexterous tossing of the noodles.

Almost every country has an exclusive version of its neighboring country’s cuisine. Just like the American version of Mexican food and our very popular Indian take on the Chinese cuisine. It’s impressive and almost unavoidable to notice as to how deep the local flavors seep into the “borrowed” cuisine and create a completely new version of the original, giving birth to a winner in its own right – like the “Indo-Chinese” cuisine. 

Out of all the various renditions of the cuisine, Chow Mein stands out in memory because of its frequent demand at our place. Ma has always been a very adventurous cook,so when we kids showed our fondness to this “street’ food..in order to inculcate some good eating habits, she started making it on her own. How, when,why..there’s not much to my memory. This is also special since its one of the first dishes I made completely on my own,while at home. One interesting addition to the noodles at my place were potatoes.  A sacrilege to many but when you are home and you get the comforts of the restaurant at your whim and fancy..there’s not much we were allowed to say. We loved the potato version too even though it makes the noodles stick due to its starchiness. So I have dropped potatoes out of our equation here. This is also a great way to sneak in veggies for kids as well as eggs and chicken. Now I guess that could very well be the real reason why my Ma started making it in the first place.


Chili Garlic Chow Mein



Chow Mein refers to stir-fried noodles with veggies and protein of your choice served with Chinese seasonings with the Indian flare. This dish can be made vegetarian too- by substituting egg noodles with rice noodles  and opting out of the chicken and eggs.Try adding in tofu or even paneer and you have your dose of protein! This makes a perfect combo with Chili chicken or Vegetable Manchurian to enjoy an Indian and Chinese dinner right in the comforts of your own home.

Ingredients:

Serves : 4-5 people

1 packet Chinese egg noodles
1 teaspoon + 1 Tbsp of canola oil
7-8 cloves of garlic
1 medium sized carrot – Julienned
½ Green bell pepper (I use red and yellow for color )
2-3 green chillies 
½  cup Cabbage chopped.
1 Onion chopped.
7-8 Green beans – Cut in strips
½ cup Chicken – Cut in cubes
2 nos. eggs
1 Tbsp Dark Soy sauce.
½ Tbsp White vinegar/Chili vinegar.
1 tsp Green chili sauce.
1 tsp Tomato ketchup.
½ tsp freshly crushed black pepper.
Salt to taste.


Disclaimer: This is in no way an advertisement for this brand. These sauces render the same taste to these noodles like our Indian made ones and hence I use these.

Method:

The noodles:

This is the most important step in a perfect Chow Mein preparation. 

1. Bring about 8 cups of water to boil and boil the noodles till its firm to the bite. Do NOT overcook since it will be stir fried with the veggies too. Drain it in a colander and place it under running cold tap water. Wash it thoroughly. This ensures that the noodles stop cooking any further and excess starch run out.

2. Toss in the noodles with 1 Tbsp of oil to make sure that the noodles do not stick.

3. In the meantime, marinate the chicken pieces with soy sauce, vinegar, salt and pepper and keep it aside for about 10-15 minutes.

Stir fry - The happy amalgamation:


1.  Add 2 Tbsp of oil to the wok and immediately add the chopped garlic. Let the garlic and the oil warm up together. This makes sure that the garlic gets soft and sweet without being burnt.Keep stirring for 1-2 minutes till the garlic turns golden brown.

2. Stir in the marinating chicken at this point and cook at a high flame for about 4 minutes.

3. Then add in the veggies one at a time – starting with the one that takes the most time. Keep stirring the veggies over high flame for about 3-4 minutes. The veggies should still remain crunchy.

4. At this point, toss in the noodles with the veggies. Pour the sauces,salt,pepper and toss well to coat. Keep stirring over high flame. Adjust the sauces as per tastes.

5. Make two thin omelets of the eggs whisked in with salt and pepper. Roll them up and cut in strips. After turning off the stove, add in the egg strips.



Now, this steaming plate of Garlic Chow mein is quite ready to take you to far off lands - beyond memories and happy places.

Happy chowing folks! 
J

P.s : I am submitting this post to -
 -  Sameena for "Evening Snack recipes"
 -  Divya for "What's in your lunch box?"
 -  "Guest Quest" hosted by Amina
 - "Kid's Delight: Evening Snacks & Tiffin" hosted by Vardhini and Srivalli.
 - "Desi Vidheshi food fest" hosted by Kalyani
 - "30 minute meals" hosted by Srivalli
 - "Anniversary Celebrations" by Cook,Click and Devour
- "Kid's Delight event" hosted by Jayanthi and Srivalli.

April 11, 2012

Our very own Falafel – Chana dal vada aka “Piaji”


As we sinked into our homey seats at the popular Mediterranean restaurant last weekend, it took us almost no time to agree upon falafel as appetizer. Just about then, it struck that irrespective of different tastes and disposition towards food almost everyone loves falafel. It’s undoubtedly the perfect starter which doubles up even as an entrĂ©e as a delish Falafel wrap. For those very few of you who might want an introduction, falafel refers to Middle eastern seasoned fritters made with chick peas and/or Fava beans. One bite into the crispy goodness and I had that Aha! moment wherein it actually dawned upon me as to how very similar it is to our chana dal fritters or “Piaji” as it is known in Odia. The mere mention of “piaji” almost instantly transports me to the rainy, stormy evenings that turned fragrant with these fresh out of the oil, crisp, spicy and completely wholesome fritters accompanied with puffed rice and onions marinated with lemon juice and green chilies. It wasn’t the first time I had pondered on its semblance to falafel, but now I definitely had the opportunity to express it.

Well that was it – I had to make an attempt and offer up the recipe for trial to all of you. So, this post is dedicated to our very own desi version of the mouth tantalizing appetizer – “ Piaji ” or the Chana Dal fritter. Isn’t it lovely to find similarities in cuisines of lands demarcated by man made borders and so-called politics which meld together in the history that food shares. It further substantiates the fact that probably we have very similar origins but have diversified in different directions keeping with us the basic originality.

                                      "Piaji" or  Chana dal fritters


In Odisha, "Piaji" basically refers to chana dal fritters seasoned with chopped onion and spices. Onion is added in more quantity as referred by the name “Piaji” which derives itself from the Odia word “Piaja” for onion.  

Ingredients:
½  cup Chana dal or Bengal gram
4 cloves of garlic
2-3 Red chillies
1/4th tsp Baking soda
1 tsp Turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Pinch (1/8th tsp) of sugar
Pinch (1/8th tsp) of Ajwain/Carom seeds
½ onion 
Bunch of mint leaves
2 Green chilies
Oil for frying

For the dipping:
2 tbsp Greek yogurt
½ Green chili
1 tbsp Cilantro
Salt to taste
Pinch of black salt
Pinch of sugar

Method:
For Chana dal fritters:
1. Soak the chana dal for about an hour. Chana dal puffs up almost to about double its size.
2.Thoroughly drain out water from the dal and grind it coarsely along with garlic and red chilies.Mix in baking soda, salt, ajwain and turmeric to the batter and keep aside.Tip: Almost immediately after adding the baking soda, the batter lightens up and is noticeable while mixing. 
3.Chop onion, green chilies and mint and keep it separate. In the meantime, heat up the oil over medium heat.
4. Mix in the chopped onion, green chilies and mint to the batter immediately before frying.Tip: This ensures that the batter does not become too watery that may cause the fritters to break apart.
5. Make up small round balls, flatten them and fry till golden brown   

For the dipping:
Make a coarse paste of cilantro and green chili and add it to the yogurt along with salt, black salt and sugar. Mix and serve chilled.

                             
One very interesting fact I came along while inquiring about Chana dal or Bengal gram dal is that it’s a close relative of chick peas / garbanzo beans , only more sweeter, younger and with a lower glycemic index which doubles up the nutritive value. Bengal gram dal can very easily be substituted in a lot of recipes that call for garbanzo beans and it can be instantly used without having to be soaked unlike its sibling. 
I leave you now with this tit-bit hoping that you have liked and are itching to try this crunchy munchie!
Good luck!
J

P.s : I am submitting this post to -
-
"Warm foods to beat the rain" hosted by The Pumpkin farm and Srivalli.
- "Desi Vidheshi food fest" hosted by Kalyani
" Dish it out – Lentils and Garlic and Vardhini’s page"
- " Kid friendly dishes" hosted by Vardhini of Cook's joy.


April 1, 2012

Pearls of divinity - "Sabudanyachi Khichadi"

Isn't it absolutely wonderful that India’s rich culinary diversity allows for so many techniques and tastes to thrive harmoniously to form the rich,delectable culinary history that we all know of. The best part of it is being provided with the opportunity to learn, adapt and appreciate those similarities and differences in culture, practices and cuisine. One such cuisine I have been strongly influenced by is the simple, subtle and delectable Maharashtrian cuisine.I do NOT proclaim to be a master but yes I have developed a liking for it due to two personal reasons, the first one being the influence of a bunch of Maharastrian friends and secondly, due its strong resemblance to Odia food in its simplicity and ease of preparation. When I say simple, I don’t imply in anyway that its very easy to make. As I have often noticed some of the simplest preparations can be one of the most difficult ones to replicate just due to a lack of the proper technique. Even though there might not be too much to do, yet just this simple basic knowledge of a particular step can make a hell lot of a difference.

I realized this when I decided to make "Sabudanyachi khichadi". By then I had witnessed numerous references to this subtle, flavorful preparation that was very close to heart to a lot of my Maharastrian friends. I resolved to learn it just for the simple fact that it made my close ones happy. For what other reason do we cook anyway? Now, even though this recipe was new to me and I had never tasted it before, I decided to give it a try. Nothing ventured nothing gained, right? Well,my first try was a disaster as most of us who have tried this recipe might concur that its so easy to get a sticky, gooey mass of tapioca pearls when not done right.

Then an idea struck and as I looked back I realized, that even though I had never tasted it before, that sabudanyachi khichadi’s key ingredient- tapioca pearls have always been a part of my childhood. Not very fond memories actually since I did not like it very much(and hence the delay in the recall), but then we had a very different preparation. The memories of my ma threatening to feed me with soaked sabu dana with milk, coconut and other goodies, still haunt me.How much I hated that! However, when I decided to make this, I called up my ma to find out the key secret to its preparation which is the first and primary step of soaking these overnight. Well for me that was pretty much it. I got it ! I completely got it that all it took was a proper soak and Voila! you have perfect sabu danyachi khichadi which was NOT a gooey mess.

Sabudanyachi Khichadi


This recipe is very versatile both in terms of the quantity of ingredients as well as by being either a snack, breakfast and most importantly "Vrat ka Khana".Its usually cooked up during fasts during auspicious days. All of the ingredients can be altered as per one’s desire.It typically has a slightly sweet taste and as per my experience and several insider inputs, the sugar quantity is usually higher than in any other recipe, but it can definitely be altered as per one’s wish.

Ingredients:

1 cup tapioca pearls (Sabu dana)
½ cup coarsely powdered peanuts (Danya cha koot)
3 teaspoons sugar
Salt to taste
2 teaspoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small potato cubed
1 green chili chopped
Few drops of lemon juice
Coriander leaves (Optional)
1 T of ghee.

Method:

1.Soaking (THE most important step) – Wash the pearls once, drain it properly and soak it in water that just covers the pearls. Let it sit overnight and in the morning, if you still think that it requires more water, sprinkle some and let it sit for sometime.The pearls should look fluffed up and translucent.Fluff up the soaked sabudana with a fork to loosen them up.

2. Mix in the coarsely ground roasted peanuts, sugar and salt.

3. Add oil to the pan,stir in the cumin, potato, chillies, and wait until the potatoes soften up.Then add the soaked sabu dana.Keep stirring the pan for about 4-5 mins.


4. Sprinkle in 5-6 drops of lemon juice and a dab of ghee at the end,garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot.

When I started out with this recipe, I surfed the internet to find a step-by-step recipe that would make it look like a breeze, but alas didn't find any! 
So I hope that this actually helps you get this recipe even if you have never seen or even worked with tapioca pearls before. 

P.s: I am submitting this entry to 
- Reshmi and Kiran for "Cooking with whole foods - Peanuts"
- Sameena for "Evening snack event"
- Divya for "What's in your lunch box?"
-  Jiya for "Exhibit every bite"
-  Kalyani and Archana for "Kitchen chronicles: Go nuts"
- "Kid's Delight: Evening Snacks & Tiffin" hosted by Vardhini and Srivalli.
 - "30 minute meals" hosted by Srivalli
- "Breakfast Club" hosted by Farmersgirll Kitchen & Fuss free flavours
- Breakfast Recipes hosted by Nandoo's Kitchen and Priya's.
- "Kid's Delight event" hosted by Jayanthi and Srivalli.