May 25, 2012

The Eggplant/Brinjal grandeur - Dahi Baigana/ Dahi Baingan

My irrational inclination towards Eggplant (Brinjal/ Baigana as its known in my side of the world ) has always baffled quite a few people.
Need I say, I adore it!  
It's meaty texture and distinctive oomph stand out on its own. Be it the simple stir fry a.k.a. bhaja (a generic Odia term for stir fried dishes) or the very subtle Baigana poda usually accompanying our dear Pakhala (a very authentic fermented water rice dish). It's variations are innumerous but no matter what, it does leave behind a cherished food memory. No wonder, that Eggplant Parmigiana is usually the substitute to numerous meat dishes in the Western menu. Makes a lot of sense.

All said and done, I agree to the fact that its actually quite easy to mess up this veggie when ignorant of some essentials. Some tricks here n there and we are all set! Out of all the various renditions, one very distinctive preparation is the Dahi Baigana - Fried eggplant and onion marinated with savory yogurt. It's a raita- a yogurt based dish that acts as a palate soother to the spicy spread of dishes on any Indian menu.

This specific dish I am writing about is a typical Odia raita that is dished out during special occasions that manages to compliment the flavors and aroma of the several other dishes, all the while keeping its distinct identity. Yogurt imparts a very creamy texture to the preparation and cuts down on any fattiness that may come from the fried eggplant and onions.

Dahi Baigana / Dahi Baingan

Marinated and fried eggplant pieces marry well with sweet fried onions in a savory yogurt base to make up a distinctly cherished eggplant memory. You will love it I swear..:)


2 nos. Japanese eggplant or regular sized brinjal.

Note: I have tried this recipe both with regular eggplants available here in the US and Japanese ones, and I must say that the sweetness of the Japanese eggplants makes it win hands down. All said, this dish works great with regular eggplants too. So go ahead and experiment.

Pinch of salt
1/4th tsp Turmeric powder.
1/4th tsp chilli powder
1 large sized onion or 2 regular sized ones - Cut in juliennes.
Oil for frying.
1 C Yogurt/Curd
Pinch of salt
Pinch of rock salt (Optional)
1/4 th tsp Sugar
1/4th C +1 or 2 Tbsp water

For the tempering:
1/4 th tsp of mustard seeds
2-3 Slit green chillies
Few curry leaves (optional)


1. Cut the eggplant and the onions into thin strips and marinate the eggplant pieces with salt, turmeric powder and chili powder.Let it sit for 5-10 minutes till the eggplant pieces soften down a bit.
Insider's note: Marinating the eggplant ensures that the somewhat bitter taste that can usually mar the taste is leached out during the process leaving you with sweet tasting wonders.

2. Fry both till soft and lightly browned.Note: These can be done in advance and kept in the fridge.

3.To prepare the yogurt, add salt, rock salt, and sugar. Add about 1/4th cup of water to make it slightly thin in consistency.If you like it thinner, then add in 1-2 T more water.Then add in the fresh out-of-the-oil fried onions and eggplants to the yogurt mixture.
Note: If using eggplant pieces and onions fried in advance, heat them up in the microwave (~30 secs) and add it to the yogurt mixture.

4. For the tempering, heat up 1/2 tbsp of oil, add in mustard seeds, chilies and curry leaves if available. Then add it to the yogurt mix.Let it sit for 20-30 mins to an hour before serving.This ensures that all the flavors meld in well making it a cohesive preparation.

This savory and sweet raita can be prepared both with or without onions but the sweetness of fried onions elevates the dish to an all together different level. It isn't quite difficult either when its prepared with other dishes especially the Piaja Pulao which also uses up fried onions. So two dishes with a similar ingredient playing two different roles and having very different flavors. Doesn't that make a few things in your long to-do list before a party just a lot easier?

Well, leaving you guys with a reason to start adoring this under-rated eggplant and handing it with its due respect, I sign off for my Memorial day weekend vacation.

Have a great weekend folks!
P.S: I am sending this entry to :
 - "Guest Quest" hosted by Amina
 - "Walk through memory lane" by Jayanthi and Gayatri.
 - "Mom's recipe" hosted by Sravs. 
 - "From the Royal kitchen" by Pari and Divya
 - "Let's cook with fruits" hosted by Nayna
- "Let's Cook with yoghurt" hosted by Nayna

May 9, 2012

The quick appetizer-dip-chutney- "Bilati Baigana Poda" (Spicy roasted tomato salsa)

Typically, Indian meals are one course meals with several small portions served up together on the same platter at the same time.The overall meal is prepared keeping in mind the coherence of the dishes and their comprehensive flavor.So when I began planning the menu, the appetizer did not quite feature at all. Truly, it all came together in that one moment as I lay on my bed watching Rachael Ray on TV, unwinding after finishing up preparations for dinner.Watching her give her own spin to salsa, I wondered - How about making a quick roasted tomato salsa as a dip for some store bought tortilla chips? So in that one moment, thankfully, it all came together.

Prior to that, many-a-times on visits to Mexican restaurants, I have always pondered on the similarity of Salsa Fresca and our own "Tamata poda chutney". For newbies,Salsa Fresca is a very popular Latin American dip/sauce made of raw tomatoes, onions, jalapeno chilies, chopped cilantro and a dash of lemon juice. Its fresh and utterly delightful. Commonly eaten with tortilla chips, its my most favorite dip of all the assorted relishes available.As much as I love salsa, I am a die-hard buff of this roasted version which is a typical Odia side dish.This dish usually accompanies rice, dal, and bhaja (dry vegetable side dish). Its simplicity, ease of preparation and the spurt of spicy, tangy freshness manages to win me over - always. 

Spicy roasted tomato salsa or "Bilati Baigana Poda"

Ripe red tomatoes are slathered with mustard oil and roasted over direct flame until the skin is charred and is soft to touch. Flame roasting the tomatoes concentrates the tanginess and adds a hint of smokiness which elevates it to a whole new flavor level. To top it all, a dash of mustard oil to the relish adds a piquancy that definitely delivers THE final  punch to the good ol' Salsa fresca. Its a very healthy substitute for cheesy dips and fatty sandwich spreads. So eat on!

4 Ripe tomatoes.
1 Serrano chili (Want it to be more spicy?..add Thai chili instead)
1/4 th Onion chopped finely
1/4 th C chopped cilantro
1/8 th tsp red chili powder
Salt to taste
1/8 th tsp Sugar
Dash of lemon
1/2 tsp Mustard oil
1. Wash and dry the tomatoes. Slather them with mustard oil or vegetable oil and place them under the broiler or over direct flame and keep turning them around.
2. Once charred and soft, let it cool down a bit.
3. Then take off the skin.It should easily peel off.
4. Mash the roasted tomatoes separately and add to it chopped onions, cilantro, chilies.
5. Season well with salt, a pinch of sugar, a pinch of red chili powder and a dash of lemon juice.
6. Optional: Traditionally, we add a dash of mustard oil at the very end for that piquancy. Opt out if you don't cherish raw mustard oil flavor.

Wait for 5-10 mins for all flavors to meld together before serving.

Note: Usually roasted directly over the stove,I used the broiler in the oven to avoid the mess of dripping tomato juice on the stove.However, the tomatoes HAVE to be charred over direct flame (either under the broiler or over the stove- take your pick) for that charred smokiness which is not achieved when roasted in an oven.

Try this out next time you have friends over for a movie night or just as an appetizer for a dinner party and I promise that you would never think of going back to the raw Salsa fresca or even for that matter, its numerous preservative-laden bottled versions. This salsa keeps very well in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Use it as a dip, a side dish or even as a filling for your sandwiches.It was a super hit with all my guests at my birthday dinner. For the entire menu for the evening, continue here.

Have fun roasting while munching along with those chips!

P.s: I am sending this recipe to:
 - "Guest Quest" hosted by Amina
 - "Walk through memory lane" by Jayanthi and Gayatri.
 - "Mom's recipe" hosted by Sravs. 
 - "Fast food not food" hosted by Kalyani and Priya.
 - Jiya for "Exhibit every bite"

 - "Let's cook with fruits" hosted by Nayna

May 7, 2012

Birthday Dinner II- The Menu and some rice devotion- "Piaja aau podina matar palau"

Intimate birthday dinners lit up with happy faces and resonant with friendly banter make up for some lifelong cherished memories. To my absolute pleasure, I got to celebrate my special day with not just one but two of them - albeit a week and hundreds of miles apart. Indo-Chinese flavors and techniques ruled the roost for friends in SF while friends in LA had been pestering me for an Indian meal for quite sometime.

Now what better occasion than a birthday to commemorate with Indian tastes and flavors? So with a firm resolve and a patient guide (read: my Ma), I took on the challenge. 

The challenge - Three courses, three days, seven dishes and five guests. 

I had to give in my best to create magical memories of Indian food. I took the onus onto myself to introduce my friends to spicy gravies,an aromatic pilaf & creamy dessert, quite quite different from the regular Indian fare in restaurants here in LA. Finalizing the menu, I stuck to some of my most favorite Odia delicacies. I had to trust my strong food memory of each item when I last had it back home.I truly believe that food memories can last a lifetime and most of these recipes have been recreated based on just that. The second factor in consideration was the awful time constraints since entertaining is not my full time job (though how I wish it was..Sigh!).

Keeping all these constraints in mind and specific requests of guests at hand, I settled for an appetizer, one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian main dish each, three side dishes and a dessert.The menu was made sure to have coherent items and to my utter delight,all of them were a hit with my guests.  I will post each of these recipes one post at a time. A quick addition -all of these recipes have been adapted from my Ma’s huge reservoir of quick and delicious recipes.

Truly, there's no greater bliss than seeing a contented, blissful face glowing with a mouthful of your food.

The Menu:


Homemade roasted spicy tomato salsa inspired by an Odia specialty of Bilati Baigan podaserves as the perfect accomplice to store bought tortilla chips.

Main course:

Vegetarian: “Kobi kasa” or Cauliflower in a thickened tomato gravy.

Non-vegetarian: “Kukuda kasa” or Chicken in a thickened tomato gravy.

Side dishes:
Piaja aau podina matar palau” or Rice pilaf fragrant with whole spices and sweetened with fried onions, mint and fresh peas.

"Methi Daali Tadka" or Toor dal (lentils) simmered with a tempering of tomatoes, garlic and kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves).

"Dahi Baigana” or Fried egg plant pieces and onions marinating with yogurt with a tempering of mustard seeds and chilies. My favorite of the lot.


A typical Odia dessert “Chaula Kheeri” or Smooth creamy sweetened rice pudding flavored with rose water, saffron and cardamom powder with the crunch of almonds.

Pure Rice devotion - "Piaja aau podina matar palau"

The first post dedicated to this dinner will sing glory ( I am serious!) of the main side dish (makes sense?), the "Piyaja aau podina matar palau" or Fried onion and mint peas Pilaf. This pilaf is a close cousin of Biryani but of course without the usual pomp and show that accompanies the preparation of the royal dish. Its very easy to put together, very very tasteful, and a definite crowd pleaser. The aroma of the pulao is quite titillating to the appetite and if need be, could be eaten all by itself.

"Piyaja aau podina matar palau"

The freshness of mint accentuates the crunchiness of fried onions and sweetness of peas, all of which form a harmonious union with the fragrant Basmati rice to leave a food memory you will cherish for a long time.

Ingredients: (Serves 4-5)
Basmati rice - 1 cup
2 T Oil/Ghee
1 tsp Cumin seeds or Jeera
Whole spices – 1 Bay leaf, 2-3 pieces of cinnamon, 7-8 black peppercorns.
½ cup green peas
½ cup mint chopped
½ cup fried onions
Salt to taste
1/8th tsp sugar

1. Soak rice for 20 minutes.
2. Add jeera and whole spices to oil. Once fragrant,add in the peas. 
3. Boil 1 ¾ cups of water and season it with salt and sugar. 
4. Wash the rice thoroughly till water runs clear and add it to the boiling water. 
5. Simmer for 10-12 minutes and when done, stir in the fried onions and mint.

Time saving tip: When planning to make this pulao, the onions can always be fried well in advance and kept in the refrigerator. Facing a time crunch, I prepared the fried onions for the pulao and the raita together 2 days in advance. So on the D-day, all I had to do was to mix it in with the pulao. Its really that simple.

Try this recipe and you will definitely thank me for introducing this sweet, fluffy,elegant pilaf that's a heavenly companion to many a spicy curry or a sole winner by its own right.

Just be sure to save some for you for later,else you will regret it ;)
More in the next few posts.
P.S: I am sending this entry to :
 - "Guest Quest" hosted by Amina
 - "Walk through memory lane" by Jayanthi and Gayatri.
 - "Mom's recipe" hosted by Sravs. 
 - "Show me your hits:Rice" hosted by Sangee and Vardhini.
 - "Bon Vivant-Rice recipes" hosted by Sumee
- " Kid friendly dishes" hosted by Vardhini of Cook's joy.

May 5, 2012

Indo-Chinese Birthday Meal Part I - Chili Chicken

Growing up, birthdays have always been very special. It was the day when I was treated like a real princess. The excitement the night before, the preparations building up for the big day and the day itself was filled with anticipation and exhilaration. It made me look forward with eagerness and feel so valued and celebrated. It would all start with the dress - "THE birthday dress" and then finding the "right" chocolates to distribute among friends. The day would begin with a visit to a temple to seek divine blessings and then the exhilaration of the day escalated with reaching school. The flurry of activity leading up to the big day made April such a lovely month for me.

But as I grow up and the child in me gives way to a more matured self, surprisingly I find myself cringing when my birthday comes up.The excitement has of course diminished and all I truly desire is a quiet evening with close friends, good food and some heart to heart conversations. And that's exactly what I got for this birthday - great food and fantastic company. So last weekend - i.e. my birthday weekend,  on public demand I went on to make Chow Mein for dinner and soon after the classic partner cropped up to mind - Chili Chicken. With everyone's help, it seemed like a breeze and was quite a success. My first birthday meal for this year.

Chili Chicken and Chow Mein/ Mixed fried rice have always been a classic combo back home. The crisp, stir fried noodles team up with this spicy, luscious chicken dish to celebrate a party in the mouth. The combination works perfectly and is a must try. A complete and versatile meal in itself , it can very well be made vegetarian with a little substitution. The best part of this combo is that they both use similar sauces and ingredients and hence make it so easy.

Chili Chicken

A lip smacking Indo-Chinese delicacy in which marinated pieces of chicken in a spicy and tangy batter are fried till golden brown and tossed with garlic, onions and chilies.It works very well when teamed up with fried rice or Chow Mein to form a complete meal by itself.

For the marinade:

1 1/2 lbs boneless Chicken cut into small pieces
1 Egg
2 T ginger garlic paste
1 T green chili paste
2 T Soy sauce
2 T Vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/3 th C Cornstarch
1/3 th C - All purpose flour
1/4th C - Besan (Optional)
1/4 th tsp Sugar

Oil for frying

For the stir fry:
3-4 onions Chopped
3-4 Chilies cut in slits.
5 -6 cloves of Garlic.
1 T soy sauce
1/2 T vinegar
1/2 T tomato sauce
Salt to taste

1. Marinate the chicken with all the ingredients for the marinade.
2. Let it sit for ~ 2-3 hrs in the refrigerator.
Tip: When kept cold, the batter sticks firmly to the chicken and makes a better coating.
3. Fry the chicken pieces till golden brown and keep aside.
4. In a wok, add some oil and garlic. Let it soften.
5. Then add in the chicken pieces, onions and chilies together.
6. Stir for 2-3 minutes on high, add in the sauces and serve hot.

Vegetarian substitute: Substitute the chicken with paneer or firm tofu and proceed as given.

Time saver tips: The chicken can be marinated and kept in the refrigerator. While planning for a party, fry the chicken pieces a day in advance. On the D-day, warm up the pieces in the oven at 300F for 5-10 mins and  proceed with step 5 and 6.

This preparation is sure to wow your guests and the best part is that it can be made way in advance leaving you time to enjoy the party without slogging too hard.An overall fun way to satisfy a hungry crowd in minutes.

Photo credits: All these pictures have been taken by my friend and a talented budding photographer who was kind enough to take these lovely pictures of my dish and share it with me. A huge thanks :)

Have a fun weekend guys!

P.S: I am sending this entry to :
 - "Guest Quest" hosted by Amina
 - "Walk through memory lane" by Jayanthi and Gayatri.
 - "Mom's recipe" hosted by Sravs. 
 - "Appetizers" hosted by Sumee.
 - "Kid's Delight: Evening Snacks & Tiffin" hosted by Vardhini and Srivalli.
 - "Warm foods to beat the rain" hosted by The Pumpkin farm and Srivalli.
 - "Desi Vidheshi food fest" hosted by Kalyani