Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Jihva for COCONUT: Eggplant Rasavangy

After four of the most stressful months of my life (all is well that ends well; I defended my thesis successfully), I'm back to my favorite activity: food blogging! I am all excited with ideas for the new year, and am thinking of making 2007 "year of the vegetables" on One Hot Stove, inspired by Alanna of Veggie Venture, by exploring different Indian styles of cooking veggies. What do you think? What would you like to see on One Hot Stove in the new year?

Meanwhile, I missed out on so many great foodie events during my blogging break, so I was thrilled when Ashwini came up with the excellent theme of COCONUT for the Jihva for Ingredients event orginally conceived by Indira. Much of the Indian landscape (especially the Southern half) is dotted by swaying, graceful coconut palms, and the coconut is entwined with everyday Indian food. How wonderful to celebrate this ingredient!

When I think of coconut, two sublime food experiences come to my mind. One is the tender coconut water that is sold on Indian beaches everywhere. For a small price, you choose a tender green coconut. The coconut-seller uses a mean-looking machete to hack away the top of the coconut, and then you get to enjoy some of the most sublime juice on the planet, sweet and rich coconut water, a real thirst-quencher. The other memory I have is, when I was a teenager in Bombay, most of the ice cream was from companies that sold princess-pink strawberry ice cream and bright green pistachio ice cream. In short, flavors that were only caricatures of the real thing. Then a company called Naturals came along and turned our concept of ice cream on its head. It launched a tender coconut ice cream flavor that simply took my world by storm. Nothing but some cream and sugar, and a lot of tender coconut bits that melted in the mouth. Naturals still has stores all over Bombay, so try some "TC" if you get a chance!

I have already raved about two of my favorite dishes starring coconut: the sweet fudge-y NAARAL WADI and the tangy, soothing beverage SOLKADI. But coconut steals the limelight even when it is used in a supporting role. In fact, this is how I love coconut best, for the way it transforms everyday recipes into something quite special.

So, today I give you: two dals with coconut. I eat dal almost every single day, and the addition of a spicy coconut paste to dal takes it to another level. One recipe is called Moong Dal Ghassi, a dal redolent with garlic, coriander and coconut. The other is a recipe I am blogging today, for Eggplant Rasavangy, a sweet and sour creation, rich with flecks of coconut.

As days go by, I am more and more obsessed with regional cooking, and this recipe is adapted from a cookbook that (in my humble opinion) is just an excellent resource for South Indian vegetarian cooking:
The book is called Dakshin (the word means "South" in several Indian languages), written by Chandra Padmanabhan. I happened to find it while rummaging through a bookstore, looking for an Indian vegetarian cookbook as a small wedding gift for a colleague. In the end, I have bought a copy for myself as well as several copies to give as gifts. The recipes are just a little bit involved, and I usually end up taking a few short-cuts through them. For instance, this recipe called for toor dal to be cooked on the stove-top until tender and not mushy. Me, I used a pressure cooker as I just cannot pass on the saving of time, fuel and effort. So my dal is mushier than the recipe calls for. The result of the recipes has always been spot-on authentic, though. The food photographs in this book are quite stunning. It is not easy to take photographs of 20 different curries (all shades of yellow and brown) but they pull it off with style. So, here it is: a dal with eggplant and coconut.

Eggplant Rasavangy

Adapted from "Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine From South India" by Chandra Padmanabhan

(Serves 4-6, Prep time: 30 minutes plus time for cooking dal)

1 cup toor dal (split yellow peas)
1 tbsp tamarind paste/ lime-sized ball of dried tamarind
1 large eggplant
1 large chopped tomato/ 1/4 cup tomato puree
1 tbsp jaggery/ unrefined cane sugar
salt to taste
1 tbsp oil/ ghee
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
5-6 curry leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp sambar powder
1 tsp oil
1 tbsp coriander seeds
pinch of asafoetida
2 dried red chillies (less or more to taste)
5 tbsp grated fresh or frozen or dried unsweetened coconut
2 tbsp chopped cilantro

1. Do the prep...(1) Cook the toor dal in a pressure cooker or on the stove-top and set aside. (2) If using dried tamarind, soak it in 1/2 cup hot water for 10-20 minutes, then squeeze out all the tamarind pulp and discard the solids. (3) Chop eggplant into small cubes. If using whole tomato, chop tomato into small cubes. (4) Make the masala paste by frying together the ingredients listed under "paste" and then grinding to a fine paste with a little water.
2. Heat oil in a large pot. Temper with cumin seeds, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Add the eggplant, tomato, turmeric, sambar powder, tamarind juice, jaggery and salt. Stir well, cover and cook until eggplants are tender.
3. Add the cooked dal and masala paste. At this point, check the consistency of the dal. If you find that it is too thick, add half or one cup water (or more, depending on whether you prefer dal to be thick or soupy). Stir well and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot with steamed rice.

Love coconut? Check out the JFI-Coconut Round-up where Ashwini neatly presents over 70 recipes for soups, snacks, curries and desserts, all featuring coconut!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Menu For Hope III

All year round, the food bloggers serve up a feast of food writing and food photography. They share old family recipes and new exciting finds. They invite you into their kitchens and to their table. Come December, food bloggers all around the world come together for their annual fund-raising event called "Menu For Hope". This year, Menu for Hope III has set out to raise money for the UN World Food Program. It is so fitting that those of us who appreciate food and are lucky enough to have never known hunger are trying, in their own small way, to help those who experience food as a daily struggle for survival.

How does it work?Many food bloggers have generously offered a cornucopia of wonderful gifts, including delicious treats, unique experiences, much-desired tools and gadgets and an armload of cookbooks. You choose your favorites, and bid on them, at 10$ for each raffle tickets. Remember, the more tickets you buy, the more your chances of nabbing the prize, and the more money we raise together to fight hunger. Now this is a win-win situation if ever I saw one!

The details:
* Go visit Chez Pim to see the wonderful prizes and note the codes of the ones you want to bid on.
* Go to First Giving to donate money and mention the prizes you are buying tickets for.
* Do it quick! The campaign runs from 11th December to 22nd December.

If you are desperately trying to come up with a holiday gift for a loved one who has everything, raffle tickets for Menu For Hope might just be the thing! Please share the love!

A brief update: One Hot Stove has been dormant for a few months. I have my final exam (the thesis defense) on the 19th of December. If all goes well, I will be moving to St. Louis the following week and will start blogging again (Whoo...hoo!). The stressful exam schedule has meant that I have not been able to put up a prize this year, but you bet I am going to bid on those amazing prizes that fellow bloggers have so generously donated! Please join us for "Menu For Hope"....the food bloggers are grateful for your support!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

SHF 23: The Surprise Inside!

No, no, I am still not done with my thesis...several more weeks to go, but I popped up from my hibernation to participate in one of my favorite foodie events, Sugar High Friday.

This month's SHF (#23, can you believe it?) is being hosted by the veggie evangelist, that champion of fresh and healthy vegetables- Alanna of Veggie Venture. Alanna has chosen the rather mysterious, open-ended theme: Surprise Inside!

So what surprise do I have in store for you?

This box contains a bona-fide dessert (sweet and rich and milky) which...SURPRISE...contains a full serving of vegetables. A nutritious vegetable at that.


Yes, this is a simple little carrot kheer. I am thrilled that I could sneak in veggies into the sugar high in honor of the Alanna, who sure loves her vegetables.

Kheer is a catch-all term for a bunch of stove-top Indian desserts. You barely need an excuse to make kheer: a birthday, a festive celebration, a family gathering is reason enough to make a big pot of this creamy dessert (it closely resembles rice pudding) to be scooped up by the bowlful.

In general, kheer contains:

  1. A milky base, generally dairy milk or coconut milk
  2. A main ingredient. The popular choices are rice, vermicelli pasta, lentils and vegetables such as carrot and bottle gourd
  3. A sprinkle of spices such as cardamom and saffron
  4. A garnish of nuts and raisin to add to the celebration!

The classic Indian carrot dessert is actually a much thicker pudding called gajar halwa but I love carrot kheer instead because it is easily cooked in 20-30 minutes. The only specialty ingredient required is cardamom; the other ingredients are pantry staples (or available at any old grocery store). The saffron, added for the delicate golden orange-yellow glow that it imparts to the kheer and for its prized subtle taste, is not required in this kheer. The copious amounts of beta-carotene in carrots give the kheer a lovely sunshine hue. Making kheer the traditional way requires a couple of hours of patient stirring to thicken the milk into the right consistency, but here I use evaporated milk to shorten the cooking time a great deal.

Carrot Kheer
(serves about 4)

4 large carrots (the freshest and juiciest you can find)
1 tbsp. butter or ghee
1/4 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 cup milk (low-fat OK)
1 12-oz can evaporated milk (low-fat OK)
1 heaped tsp. powdered cardamom
Garnish: raisins and chopped toasted nuts

  1. Shred the carrots by hand (quite a workout) or using a food processor.
  2. Heat butter/ghee and sauté the carrots for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Stir in the milk and sugar, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until the carrots are tender.
  4. Stir in the evaporated milk and cardamom, then cook uncovered for 5 more minutes. Taste for sugar and stir in more if required.
  5. Chill the kheer, then serve topped with nuts and raisins.

This kheer was made in St. Louis when I was visiting over Labor Day weekend.

I will be moving there in a few months, so One Hot Stove will soon come to you from the Gateway to the West, St. Louis.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A long blogging break!

Just a quick note to say...I am going on an extended blogging hiatus. I need to focus on my work 100% as I finish up my dissertation and get ready to defend my doctoral thesis. I know I will be lurking at my favorite blogs whenever I need a break though :) Wishing everyone the very best until I get back in a few months!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Flour Power!

It is almost time for yet another edition of the foodie event Jihva for ingredients, an original concept of Indira from Mahanandi and hosted this month by Santhi of Santhi's kitchen. Following closely on the heels of last month's theme of lentils or dals, this time Santhi has chosen the ingredient Flour!

I took a peek into my kitchen cupboards and counted the flours I have on hand; here is what I found...
It turns out, that like most Indian kitchens, I keep a variety of flours on hand, and they can be basically divided into wheat flours (the four in the middle, listed below from the finest to the coarsest) and flours from other grains or pulses (the four on the outside). Here is what I generally use them for...

The wheat flours:
1. All-purpose flour or maida: I use this for baked goods like cakes or muffins, pizza dough and for making bechamel (white) sauce. Some Indian flatbreads such as bhaturas also call for all-purpose flour. This ultra-refined flour, however, is not the healthiest option (it has most of the nutrients and fiber milled out of it), and I try and keep my use of it to a minimum.
2. Atta: This is the Indian-style whole-wheat flour. It is a finer texture compared to the whole-wheat flour found in American supermarkets. I use this for Indian breads like stuffed parathas and regular rotis or chapatis.
3. Whole-wheat flour: This is something I keep on hand for making whole-wheat pizza dough, which calls for a mixture of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour. Pizza made with whole-wheat dough looks and tastes delicious, in addition to being better for you.
4. Semolina or sooji or rava: This is the coarsest wheat flour, sold most often in American supermarkets under the brand "cream of wheat". I use it for making upma, a delicious risotto-like Indian breakfast, and also use it in smaller quantities as (a) an addition to some batters for a crispier result and (b) as a substitute for breadcrumbs for dipping patties in, prior to shallow-frying them.

Other flours:
5. Millet or ragi flour: This makes delicious and nutritious pancakes.
6. Rice flour: Also kept on hand for making quick breakfast pancakes.
7. Cornmeal: I use this for a delicious zucchini cornbread that pairs beautifully with some spicy chili.
8. Chickpea flour or besan: My favorite flour! I use it to make batter for fritters (bhajiyas and pakodas), and to make my beloved stew, pithale. This flour also makes delicious vegan "omelets" for breakfast.

For my entry today, I was faced with too many choices! After much agonised and back-and-forth-ing, I decided to go back to basics and make a traditional feast of puri with aamras and batata bhaji where puri= fried bread, aamras= mango puree and batata bhaji= a dry spicy potato dish. This combination is often served at special occasions in Marathi homes, and it was a natural choice for me because (a) I had never made puris before, and wanted to try my hand at this classic "special" bread and (b) I had a tin of canned mango puree from my parents' backyard (all-natural, with no added sweeteners) and puris are just special enough for this precious mango to be eaten with. The puri recipe was really simple, pieced together from a few recipes I found on the internet. The dough contains atta, a dab of oil and a sprinkle of salt. I did add some semolina (rava) to make the puris crisper. The result was wonderful: the puris were exactly as I hoped for (even with my imperfectly shaped circles). The meal consisted of alternate dips of the hot puffy puris into chilled mango and spicy potato...absolutely heavenly!

(serves 2-3)
2 cups atta (Indian-style whole-wheat flour)
1 heaped tbsp semolina (rava)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp oil
oil for deep frying
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Add warm water little by little to make a smooth but *firm* dough (firmer than regular roti dough). Let the dough relax for 30 minutes under a barely-damp towel in the covered bowl. Then take about a tablespoon of dough at a time, roll it into a thin circle (using some more atta to help in the rolling process), and deep fry for a few seconds on each side until the puri is puffed and golden. Drain well on some paper towels and serve hot.

Someone requested the recipe for the potato, so here it is:

Batata Bhaji
(serves 2-3)
3 large or 4 medium potatoes
1 onion, sliced
2 chillies, chopped fine
5-6 curry leaves
pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
salt to taste
1 tsp oil
1 wedge of lemon
2 tbsp cilantro, minced
1. Boil the potatoes. When they are cool enough to handle, peel them and chop into cubes.
2. Heat oil in a pan. Temper with cumin and mustard seeds.
3. Add the onion, chillies, asafoetida and curry leaves and saute till onions are lightly browned.
4. Add the salt and turmeric powder and stir to mix.
5. Add the potato cubes and stir well. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
6. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle with lemon juice and cilantro. Serve with puris.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Recipe Watch 3, from my *tiny* kitchen...

Far more than cookbooks, I use my fellow bloggers as inspiration to try some new recipes and find new favorites. Every so often, a recipe from a food blog will make it to our hit-list, and go into routine circulation on our dinner menu. Here are some of my recent "finds":

1. My introduction to chard: I love eating my greens. Always have. Eating in the cafeteria in my hostel in college, I was the one person who would enthusiastically eat up the weekly serving of mystery-greens-in-a-mush (Am I right, M?). However, cooking with greens is another story: anything other than the familiar spinach intimidates me. So was it with chard. Those huge stalks and oversize leaves...what do you make with it? I jumped for joy when Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries posted her recipe for vegetarian enchiladas. The filling called for chard, corn and black beans. I followed Barbara's recipe for the filling, but used store-bought corn tortillas and my favorite tried-and-tested salsa verde recipe for the sauce. The result was wonderful: the chard tasted fresh and "green" without being bitter or overwhelming. Overall, the enchiladas were so tasty and healthy! The amounts suggested in the recipe made two whole dinners for V and me. I am dying to try chard in more dishes, so let me know if you have a suggestion.

2. One of every two nights, dinner at my home is some-form-of-rice with some-form-of-beans, and I am constantly looking for fresh ideas for cooking dal or beans. One recipe from Shammi's Food-In the Main caught my eye: it used one of my favorite beans- black-eyed peas. Shammi's black-eyes peas in yogurt sauce was easy to make, looked pretty and tasted sublime. Like all of Shammi's recipes that I have tried so far!

3. The next two dal dishes come from Sailu's excellent round-up of the foodie event "Jihva for Ingredients 3". Dozens of bloggers churned out some inspiring (and inspired) dishes using lentils, and I have my eye on trying on most of them. The first recipe I tried was from the host, Sailu, herself. I am always looking for good recipes for classic dishes, and dal makhani (translated as buttery lentils) is probably the the best example of a stereotyped classic Indian entree. Sailu's recipe for dal makhani was an instant hit: with the combination of lentils and kidney beans, a rich creamy sauce of tomatoes, onion, subtle spices, anointed with butter and cream; this dish is enough to make any dinner special!

4. This is the other hit from the dal round-up: I seem to be on a chana dal binge, and the dalcha recipe from Nabeela of Trial and Error looked intriguing and tempting. Since summer squash is in season right now, I used some beautiful yellow squash in place of the gourd in the dalcha recipe. I served the dalcha with rice that had caramelized onions stirred into it. The result was terrific!

5. To end this round-up, a simple and tasty dish from Gini-Ann of Salt and Pepper: a radish pachadi or yogurt relish that is perfect for summer. Gini, who has a green thumb indeed, used beautiful radishes from her own garden, while I had to resign myself to radishes grown by someone else (in new jersey, though, so it was close to home). This whole summer, I have been buying radishes almost every week: to be used in a simple mixed salad, or to be added to sambar, an idea I first got from Indira of Mahanandi. Gini's recipe is now another favorite: radishes (with some radish greens) sauteed lightly to bring out their sweetness, then dressed with a tempered yogurt sauce. Absolutely divine!

Finally, some of you were interested in taking a look at my *tiny* kitchen, where all the food on One Hot Stove gets made. Here it is:
The kitchen has been carved out of the niche that is the coat closet in normal (which is to say, non-NYC) apartments. So, to the right of this photo is the front door, and to the left is the living room. The kitchen contains three electric burners (two of which work), a small oven (good thing I never have to roast turkeys), and the only counter space is that between the knife rack and the dish drainer. Whenever I try to use a rolling pin in this counter space, I have to hold it at the diagonal across the space, otherwise I either hit the wall or knock the dish tray on the floor! Across from this niche is a wall which hold a little spice rack, and that is the sum total of my kitchen (fridge, toaster oven and microwave are scattered in the living room).
I happen to love this kitchen, though, and I have been cooking meals for 20 people here for years. If there is anyone out there who complains that they don't cook because their kitchen is too small, y'all know it is just an excuse :) !!
In a few months, I will be moving to another city and a bigger kitchen where I can hold my rolling pin any damn way I please, and I won't lie to you: I'm excited about that :)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Books and Food: Freedom Song by Amit Chaudhuri

This article is part of a special series called "Books and Food". I have loved books long before I ever got interested in the culinary arts. Short stories, novels, biographies and travelogues, I love them all. Human life is inextricably linked to food, and books often use descriptions of feasts and famines, dinner rituals and food memories to bring a point across to the reader. In this series, I talk about my favorite books and the food passages therein, and make a dish or a meal inspired by the book

Today's book: A Strange and Sublime Address, a novella by Amit Chaudhuri, part of the book Freedom Song

The food: A Bengali meal of Chholar Dal and Aloo Posto, served over steamed rice

Amit Chaudhuri's novella A Strange and Sublime Address is part of a collection of three novellas, Freedom Song. It is a story with a plot that is remarkable by its non-existence! It is not a story so much as it is a snapshot, a description of a certain time and place, capturing the minutae of existence of a certain family. Sandeep visits his mother's family in Calcutta for the summer, and Chaudhuri captures this simple summer vacation- the day-today activities of Sandeep and his two boy cousins, the goings-about of the typical Bengali household- with his exquisitely descriptive language. Here is a book that reads like a poem.

"...Later, they went down to have lunch in the dining-room; they dangled their feet ferociously from chairs round a large, shabby table with pots thronging in the centre.
Pieces of boal fish, cooked in turmeric, red chilli paste, onions and garlic, lay in a red, fiery sauce in a red pan; rice, packed into an even white cake, had a spade-like spoon embedded in it; slices of fried aubergine were arranged on a white dish; dal was served from another pan with a dropping ladle; long, complex filaments of banana-flower, exotic, botanical, lay in yet another pan in a dark sauce; each plate had a heap of salt on one side, a green chilli, and a slice of sweet-smelling lemon. The grown-ups snapped the chillies (each made a sounds terse as a satirical retort), and scattered the tiny, deadly seeds in their food. If any of the boys were ever brave or foolish enough to bite a chilli, their eyes filled tragically with tears, and they longed to drown in a cool, clear lake. Though Chhotomama was far from affluent, they ate well, especially on Sundays, caressing the rice and sauces on their plates with attentive, sensuous fingers. fingers which performed a practised and graceful ballet on the plate till it was quite empty"

I am a newcomer to Bengali cuisine. Bengali food is stereotyped by the heavy consumption of rice and fish, and is famous for its delicious milk-based sweets. Vegetarian Bengali food is traditionally "satvik", meaning "pure" and devoid of onions and garlic. Unlike the vegetarian food of the rest of India, Bengali veggie food is very mild as far as spices go. To make a simple home-style Bengali-inspired meal, I decided to make two classics: a simple chana dal called chholaar dal, a potato-and-poppy seed preparation called aloo posto and some piping hot steamed rice to round out the meal.

The chholar dal recipe is kindly provided by my friend Sujayita. She served this at a dinner to me once, and I was delighted by this mild, sweetish, buttery tasting dal. I personally tend to not use chana dal very much, and when I tasted this dal, I was convinced that I should use it more.

Chholaar Dal
(serves 4)
1 cup chana dal (split gram lentils)
1 heaped tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp ghee
2 bay leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 inch piece of cinnamon
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 heaped tsp sugar (or to taste)
salt to taste
Bits of coconut, fried (optional)
1. Soak the chana dal for 8-10 hours. Then cook on stove-top or in pressure cooker until it is tender but not mushy.
2. Stir the ginger into the cooked dal and set aside.
3. Heat the oil and ghee, then add all the tempering ingredients. Saute for a couple of minutes.
4. Add the turmeric and saute for a few seconds, then add cooked dal and simmer for 5 minutes.
5. Season with salt and sugar. You can add more water if the dal appears too thick. Garnish with coconut, if using.

The aloo posto recipe originates with my aunt J who lives in Toronto. Although she is Konkani, she was raised in Calcutta and is married to a Bengali; traditional Bengali food often makes its way to her table. When I visited her three years ago, she delighted me by serving aloo posto with typical Konkani-style dal, a true marriage of two culinary traditions! Once I returned home, I tried making it and it came out great. However, in a moment of culinary bravado, I neglected to write the recipe down. This is the best I can remember of it, so I'm not making any claims to authenticity with this recipe!

Aloo Posto
(serves 4)
2 large or 3 medium potatoes
salt to taste
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 bayleaf
1/2 cup poppy seeds
2 green or red chillies
1. Soak the poppy seeds for 30 minutes. Grind them with the chillies, using very little water, to make a thick paste.
2. Peel the potatoes and slice them into thick stubby finger shapes. Rub them with salt and turmeric and set aside.
3. Heat the oil, then saute the cumin seeds and bayleaf for a minute.
4. Add the potatoes and saute for a few minutes.
5. Stir in the poppy seed paste and 1/2 cup water.
6. Cover and cook till potatoes are tender and well-coated with the paste (adding a little more water if the potatoes start sticking to the pan).

See you soon with a new edition of "Recipe Watch", where I describe some recipes from my fellow bloggers that I have tried and loved. Have a great week ahead!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Test-Driving my new Le Creuset

Early this year, I made a resolution to stock my kitchen with better cookware. One of the items high on my list was a heavy-duty cast-iron casserole. A few weeks ago, my friend Laureen stopped by, and came bearing a wedding gift in a big old heavy box. She must be a mind-reader, because that box contained my object of desire: a le creuset casserole, in the cutest yellow-tomato shape (complete with a realistic stem-like lid). creuset1

For someone who likes to cook and has been doing it for a while, I feel like I have a very poor understanding of cookware. Much of it stems from the fact that (a) I cook in a *tiny* kitchen with limited space for pots and pans, and (b) when I stocked my kitchen 5 years ago, I was under a tight budget and ended up getting one run-of-the-mill cookware set and then just using that for years. So I am starting to educate myself a little bit on cookware, and it turns out that cast-iron cookware is made by pouring molten iron into a mold (a centuries-old method of making cooking pots). The Le creuset variety is then coated with a layer of enamel, which means it does not require "seasoning" like regular cast iron pots do. The wonderful thing about cast iron pots is that they are nothing if not sturdy, so I totally expect to take good care of my little tomato and have it last a lifetime.

I searched around for a recipe to try in this pot, and came across one in a recent issue of Vegetarian Times magazine. It sounded like a delicious recipe (vegan to boot) and uses carrots (which I tend to under-use) and rubbed sage (a new addition to my spice rack). This recipe was part of an article on carrot recipes; I am dying to try out a carrot cake which was also published in the same article.

Tofu-Carrot Cacciatore

(adapted from "Vegetarian Times" magazine, serves 4-5)
1 bunch fresh carrots, peeled and cut into slices on a bias
1 green pepper, cut into large dice
1 onion, cut into large dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 8-oz package Italian-style baked tofu, cubed
1 28-oz can tomatoes (crushed or whole peeled)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bayleaf
1 tbsp rubbed sage
salt and pepper to taste
1 and half cups dried pasta (your favorite shape)
1. Heat the olive oil. Saute onions and garlic till transluscent and aromatic.
2. Add the carrots, peppers and bayleaf and saute for 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes, sage, tofu, salt and pepper and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta as per package directions. Serve the cacciatore over the hot pasta.

I was very impressed with the way this stew turned out. The le creuset casserole browns veggies just beautifully. It held heat for a really long time and was a snap to clean. Thanks, Laureen, I will be thinking of you every single time I use this beautiful pot!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Too Darned Hot: Mushroom Chettinad

When Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries announced that the theme this time around for her monthly "Spice is Right" event is It's too darned hot, with a focus on (what else but) chillies, I smiled to myself. Indian cuisine embraces its chillies, with nary a chilli-free savoury dish in sight.

Even so, some sub-cultures in India are famous for kicking up the heat to a whole 'nother level. For instance, Andhra cuisine uses chillies exuberantly (I once *wept* through a Andhra thali dinner at Bheema in Bangalore, and can't wait to go back for more), Kolhapuri cuisine is redolent with chillies and garlic (restaurants all over India serve what they call Kolhapuri-style dishes, the only common thread among these is lashings of chillies and garlic) and a relatively unknown cuisine known as Chettinad (from the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu) that achieves its flavor from an intense combination of chillies and peppercorns.

My first taste of Chettinad food was in a rather unlikely location: a cafe adjoining a theatre in Bombay. At the time, I was living with my aunt Y (a regular reader of this blog) in Juhu, a swanky neighborhood in Bombay, and she gets all the credit for making me a culture vulture (to the modest extent that I am one, anyway). Y and I trooped over town to the theatre (both Marathi and English), museums, art galleries and fancy restaurants. We lived an envious life: we would shop till we dropped, snacking all the while, then come home and dine on pepsi and potato chips (this was a decade she has a kid to raise and I have a thesis to complete and that casually extravagant lifestyle seems nothing short of surreal). One of our favorite outings was a trip to the Prithvi Theatre to see the latest production, followed by a visit to the cafe for some snacks and the mandatory Irish coffee.

When I first tasted mushroom Chettinad at the Prithvi Cafe, it was a flavor explosion in my mouth. A burst of chillies and black pepper, mingling with the aroma of curry leaves and mustard seeds...I could not believe it! The taste was imprinted in my brain and has stayed with me for years. Traditional Chettinad cuisine, however, is very meat-oriented, and I never did get a chance to try my hand at making this dish. Until last week. I was reading The Turmeric Trail, a memoir-style cookbook by Raghavan Iyer (about the book: I liked the recipes but could not stand the prose) and came across a recipe for shrimp Chettinad. Just as I remembered, it called for a combination of peppercorns and chillies (a great deal of each), with a flavorful tempering of curry leaves and mustard seeds, counterbalanced with the tang of tamarind. I adapted the recipe to wild mushrooms bought fresh from the farmer's market, and the result was addictive, finger-licking good; but *very* hot, so you must sign a waiver if you want to try this recipe!

Mushroom Chettinad
(adapted from The Turmeric Trail by Raghavan Iyer; serves 2-3)
3 cups mixed wild mushrooms (I used cremini, shitake, oyster), cleaned and chopped coarsely
1 tsp tamarind paste
salt to taste
cilantro, minced, for garnish
For tempering
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
5-6 fresh curry leaves
For spice mixture
1 tbsp split yellow peas (chana dal)
5-6 black peppercorns
2 dried red chillies

1. Roast all the ingredients for the spice mixture. Cool and grind in a spice/coffee grinder to a fine powder. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in a skillet. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves and stir around for a few seconds till the seeds pop.
3. Saute the mushrooms in the tempered oil. Season with salt.
4. When the mushrooms start sweating, add the spice mixture and saute for a couple of minutes on low-medium heat.
5. Add the tamarind paste (and a few tablespoons of water if the mixture starts sticking to the pan). Stir for a minute.
6. Garnish with cilantro. Serve hot with rotis or rice.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Books and Food: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This article is part of a special series called "Books and Food". I have loved books long before I ever got interested in the culinary arts. Short stories, novels, biographies and travelogues, I love them all. Human life is inextricably linked to food, and books often use descriptions of feasts and famines, dinner rituals and food memories to bring a point across to the reader. In this series, I talk about my favorite books and the food passages therein, and make a dish or a meal inspired by the book.

Today's book: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The food: Breakfast strata

For the fourth of July, I chose an American classic. Betty Smith's "A tree grows in Brooklyn" is the story of a girl named Francie Nolan growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. A fascinating portrait of life in an impoverished neighborhood, the story ends up so unexpectedly heartwarming and realistic that it stays with you long after you are done reading the book. Even during hard times, Francie's mother, Katie, stretches her resources to provide hot meals for her family. It is far too easy to go shopping and cook impressively on a big budget. The truly creative and resourceful cook is someone like Katie, working with the stale bread that is the staple of their diet:

"The Nolans practically lived on that stale bread amd what amazing things Katie could make from it! She'd take a loaf of stale bread, pour boiling water over it, work it up into a paste, flavor it with salt, pepper, thyme, minced onion and an egg (if eggs were cheap), and bake it in the oven. When it was good and brown, she made a sauce from half a cup of ketchup, two cups of boiling water, seasoning, a dash of strong coffee, thickened it with flour and poured it over the baked stuff. It was good, hot, tasty and staying. What was left over, was sliced thin the next day and fried in hot bacon fat.
Mama made a very fine bread pudding from slices of stale bread, sugar, cinnamon and a penny apple sliced thin. When this was baked brown, sugar was melted and poured over the top. Sometimes she made what she had named
Weg Geschnissen, which laboriously translated meant something made with bread bits that usually would be thrown away. Bits of bread were dipped into a batter made from flour, water, salt and an egg and then fried in deep hot fat. While they were frying, Francie ran down to the candy store and bought a penny's worth of brown rock candy. This was crushed with a rolling pin and sprinkled on top of the fried bits just before eating. The crystals didn't quite melt and that made it wonderful"

In honor of every last crust of stale bread, I put together this breakfast strata. It is a fridge-cleaning "recipe", if you even want to call it a recipe. This is just a "Throw in whatever you got" kind of dish. I love making this on Saturday mornings to clean out the fridge before I head out to the Farmer's Market for my weekly groceries. It gets me off to a fresh start on weekends.

Breakfast Strata

(serves 2-3)
3 eggs
Stale bread, cut into small cubes (about 2 cups)
Splash of milk or cream
Some sliced onions
Assorted veggies (peppers are good if you have any) (1 cup in all)
Assorted cheeses (shredded) (1/2 cup)
Salt and Pepper
Herbs (optional)
1. Saute the onions and veggies together. Set aside.
2. Beat the eggs together with cream/milk, salt and pepper.
3. Coat a gratin dish with non-stick spray. Layer with veggies, then bread cubes.
4. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes so that it soaks into the bread.
5. Top with the shredded cheese and herbs, if using.
6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, till egg is cooked (knife should come clean) and cheese is golden.


You never need to throw out any old bread: Stale Bread was the theme of a recent IMBB (food event) hosted by Derrick of An Obsession with Food. Read the round-ups here, here and here for a plethora of ideas on what to do with left-over bread. Another dish I love making with stale bread: Bread Pakoras!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Weekend Dog Blogging

Dale shows off his brand new blue leash - a gift from V's Dad. Dale is a happy puppy these days: I made a trip to the Three Dog Bakery near Pike Place Market in Seattle and came back with these treats for Dale:
Go visit Sweetnicks, where it is puppy-central every weekend!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Jihva for DAL: Mujadarah

Jihva for ingredients

Jihva for ingredients, a brain-child of Indira of Mahanandi is an event that celebrates Indian ingredients. This month's host, Sailaja of Sailu's Food, has come up with the far-ranging theme of DALS or lentils. Indian cuisine is blessed with a surfeit of dals of all types, and they are invaluable to my vegetarian diet.

For this month's jihva, I decided to take a break from all my favorite dal preparations and explore lentils from a different cuisine. Two dishes that came to my mind immediately were (a) Ethiopian Yemisir wat (lentils cooked with aromatic spices and typically served with tangy injera bread). (b) Mid-Eastern Mujadarah, a simple dish of rice, lentils and fried onions. In the end, I went with the latter. Other traditional lentil dishes include the Greek Moussaka (I tried making this once, and quite liked it) and the Italian Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta and Lentils).

My inspiration for mujadarah came from a post written by Lindy, who writes the lovely blog Toast. Lindy praised mujadarah as a dish that is "much more than the sum of its parts". It uses few ingredients, all of them inexpensive pantry staples, and is downright delicious. How could I not try it? The one modification I used was: instead of using the lentils plain, I sprouted them for this dish, to enhance their nutritive value. The resultant mujadarah is a perfect combination of carbs and protein, a complete one-dish meal. The addition of the fried chocolate-brown onions, with their complex flavors, elevates this simple dish to a whole new level.


(Click here for original recipe. Thanks, Lindy! I owe you!)
1/4 cup olive oil (see note below)
2 large onions, sliced thin
1 cup brown lentils, sprouted
1 cup basmati rice
salt and pepper to taste
minced parsley/cilantro for garnish
1. Heat oil in a frying pan, then fry the onions on *medium heat*, stirring occasionally, till they are dark brown and aromatic (this may take 20-30 minutes).
2. Meanwhile, bring 5 cups of water to a boil, then add rice and lentils and simmer till both are cooked to tenderness.
3. Season lentil-rice mixture generously with salt and pepper. Stir in the browned onions, along with the oil. Leave covered for 15 minutes.
4. Serve hot garnished with parsley/cilantro.

Note: Extra-virgin olive oil tends to break down at lower temperatures than pure olive oil, so for this type of prolonged sauteeing, I prefer using a 1:1 mixture of extra virgin olive oil and pure olive oil, so as to get the flavor of the former and the frying characteristics of the latter. It still smoked a bit, but tasted fine in the end.

The verdict: You have to eat it to believe it! The combination of fragrant onions with the rice and lentils is absolutely heavenly. With gentle seasoning and the lack of other spices, the true flavor of the fried onions comes through. This goes right on my all-time favorites list. It reheats very well and tastes even better the next day.

Serving suggestions: I served mujadarah with Fage Greek yogurt. It would be also be delicious with a refreshing tomato-cucumber-radish salad. I can envision a delicious Mid-Eastern themed picnic spread with mujadarah, salad, pitas and hummus, with maybe some feta cheese to sprinkle on top.

Thanks, Sailu for hosting this event. The round-up of this event is going to be very valuable, with lots of new ideas to use dals in everyday cooking!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Profusion of Handcrafted Gifts

This is a non-food the past weeks and months, I have been fortunate enough to be given some beautiful hand-crafted gifts and I really wanted to show them off (and share with everyone how proud I am of the people that made them).

One of the biggest joys of food blogging are the fellow bloggers you meet and become friends with. One wonderful blogger was actually my "mentor" and the person who first encouraged me to start this blog. Cathy and I were lucky enough to meet in person last year, and we met again for a quick breakfast at the City Bakery (Union Square) last Monday. Meeting Cathy was great fun and we chatted away as usual while eating hot oatmeal (Cathy) and a pretzel croissant (me...could our breakfasts have been more healthier and unhealthier, respectively?), and Cathy then gave me this while I stared at her in shock:
Why was I shocked? Believe it or not, it is a beautiful, soft kitchen towel that Cathy has *woven herself*...yes, the whole fabric is hand-crafted from yarn. I was so moved to receive this labor of love! Read more about this towel's creation here and here. Incredible, isn't it? All I'm going to say is: this towel is not going to wiping down any counters in my kitchen...I will be treasuring it!

Another useful-for-the-kitchen gift: My parents' neighbour, a lovely older lady who is an expert knitter, made me this cute little strawberry pot-holder:
It has the cutest pattern and is thick and fluffy! A real sweet treat!

This is a set of personalized bath-and-hand towels, exquisitely embroidered by R, who apart from working as my mom's assistant, is also very talented with her hands and is always sewing away in her spare time.
The delicate floral design is perfect in every detail...I know I will feel special every time I use these towels.

My mom's sister P (a talented artist) first made this set of pillow-cases as a wedding gift for my mom, and now I am lucky enough that she me painted a set too: Playing cards are delicately hand-painted on fabric to make these pillow-cases: The King and Queen of Hearts, personalized with our initials. How cute are they? Here is the King of Hearts:
and the Queen of Hearts:
I keep looking at these...the details of the painting are just astonishing.

Finally, this is something that my mom bought for me from a market in Pune but it was hand-crafted by *someone*! My mom has a talented eye for seeking out really cute and whimsical stuff, like this knitted woolen Marathi thali!
It depicts a full traditional Marathi lunch, served on a banana leaf. From top, anticlock-wise (starting with the really little stuff), this is what I can guess (thanks, aunt Y for helping out with this)
1. Salt
2. Slice of lemon
3. Chutney (typically made with cilantro and coconut)
4. Koshimbir (tomato-cucumber salad)
5. Karanji (very cute and accurate rendition)...fried turnover filled with a sweet coconut-poppy filling
6. Jalebi (fried spiral-shaped sweet dipped in syrup)
7. Modak (steamed dumpling with a sweet filling)
8. Waran-Bhaat (rice with simple yellow dal...looks perfect)
9. Kesari Bhaat (sweet saffron-flavored rice...the light orange one)
10. Masale Bhaat (spicy vegetable pilaf)
11. Alu Bhaji (a dish of sauteed spicy colacassia/taro greens)
12. Batata Bhaji (a dish of seasoned boiled potatoes).
Looks delicious, right?

Hand-crafted gifts are so touching...a true gift of time and talent. I'm off to Seattle to attend a conference so I'll be back by the end of the month! So long!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Books and Food: "Family Matters" by Rohinton Mistry

This article is part of a special series called "Books and Food". I have loved books long before I ever got interested in the culinary arts. Short stories, novels, biographies and travelogues, I love them all. Human life is inextricably linked to food, and books often use descriptions of feasts and famines, dinner rituals and food memories to bring a point across to the reader. In this series, I talk about my favorite books and the food passages therein, and make a dish or a meal inspired by the book

Today's book: Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry
The food: A Parsee meal of Vegetable Dhansak, Brown Rice and Kachumbar

English language books by authors of South Asian descent is one of my particular obsessions, so the first book I have chosen is from this genre. Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry is a story of a middle-class Parsee family in Bombay. The Parsees are a small minority community in India; they practice the Zoroasterian faith, the worship of fire. This small but vibrant community has produced several talented authors, and Rohinton Mistry is my favorite. Mistry has an incredible gift: he has the ability to take the ordinary and make it lyrical. He speaks of the everday business of life and in doing so, paints a vivid picture of life in middle-class Bombay, especially that in a Parsee household.

In the following scene, Roxana, who lives in a tiny apartment with her husband and two boys, has her elderly injured father come to live with her. One of her boys offers to help feed him.
"Jehangir filled the spoon again and raised it to his grandfather's lips. A grain of rice strayed, lingering at the corner of his mouth. Jehangir took the napkin to gently retrieve it before it fell.
And for a brief instant, Roxana felt she understood the meaning of it all, of birth and life and death. My son, she thought, my father, and the food I cooked…A lump came to her throat; she swallowed."

Food and its trappings are often found in this story. One paragraph that really made me laugh (because I identified with it so closely) was when Roxana's boys read story books by the English author End Blyton and dream of the food oft-mentioned in Blyton's books: "Muffins, porridge, kippers, scones, steak and kidney pie, potted meat, dumplings. Their father said if they ever tasted this insipid foreign stuff instead of merely reading about it in those blighted Blyton books, they would realize how amazing was their mother's curry-rice and khichri-saas and pumpkin buryani and dhansak. What they needed was an Indian Blyton, to fascinate them with their own reality"

The Parsee-inspired meal that I served included brown rice pilaf, a vegetable-dal stew called dhansak and a simple salad called kachumbar. The "brown rice" traditionally served in the Parsee meal is white rice which is browned by the addition of caramelized sugar, but I made "real" brown rice, because it is so much healthier, and because it goes perfect with the dhansak. Speaking of which, I tried looking for an authentic dhansak recipe on the internet. A google search yielded this recipe for a pretty non-authentic dhansak. But this webpage has a true treasure: scroll down to the last two lines of this page, and someone has provided a recipe (there is a link to a word document) for vegetarian dhansak. I have simplified and modified the recipe somewhat. The meal was delicious enough to be a special treat, and yet bursting with health, with all those wonderful lentils, whole grains and vegetables, both raw and cooked. The recipe for dhansak sounds tedious, but it is a snap to put together once you have the ingredients at hand.


(1) 1 + 1/2 cups mixed dals (I used toor, masoor, moong, chana and urad; use your favorites in any proportion)
(Soak the dals for a few hours, then cook and set aside; you could use a pressure cooker or the stove-top method)

(2) Vegetables:
Yellow Squash
Tomato (Dice all the veggies for a total of 5-6 cups of mixed veggies)

(3) Tempering:
1 tbsp oil
1 onion, diced
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste

(4) Dhansak Masala: Toast the following together (I throw it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes on low works!)
2 red chillies
1 inch cinnamon
8 black peppercorns
2 dried bay leaves
8 cloves
1 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
Grind roasted spices together. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and 1/2 tsp nutmeg powder. Set masala powder aside.

(5) Herbs/greens:
1 cup packed spinach (fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (or 3-4 tbsp fresh, minced)
1 tbsp dried mint leaves (or 2 tbsp fresh, minced)

1. Heat oil, then saute the onion till transluscent. Add the ginger-garlic and fry for a minute.
2. Add the diced veggies and 1/2 cup water, cover and cook till the vegetables are tender.
3. Now add the masala, salt to taste, the herbs and the dals. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Brown Rice Pilaf

2 cups brown basmati rice
4 and 1/4 cup water
dash of salt
1 tsp ghee
1 bayleaf
2 tsp whole spices (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns)
1. Heat the ghee and gently saute the bayleaf and whole spices for a few seconds.
2. Add the rice and saute for a few seconds.
3. Add water and salt, cover the pot and cook for 30-40 minutes till the rice is tender and the water is all absorbed.


Mix together diced tomatoes, onions, cucumber and radishes. Season with salt, pepper, a dash of sugar and a dash of vinegar. Sprinkle with some minced cilantro.

Here are links to two other Parsee recipes:
Patrani Macchi: Deccanheffalump gives a wonderful introduction to Parsee cuisine, with a bit of history thrown in, and this fish recipe.
Pateta par Eeda This is a tasty eggs-and-potatoes brunch dish that is a favorite with V and me.

Please let me know how you like this series. Ideas for books that you would like to see featured are welcome too!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Perfumed Garden: Cardamom-Rose Kulfi

This recipe is my entry for the Spice is Right III, a spice-oriented food blogging event hosted by Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries. The theme this time around is "The Perfumed Garden", where the challenge is to combine edible flowers with spices in a recipe. I was thrilled when I learned about the theme, because I just returned from India with a large bag of some Gulkand or Rose Jam. This is nothing but fresh rose petals mixed with sugar and allowed to "cook" under the blazing tropical sun yielding a dark red, thick, gooey rose-scented jam.
I love eating a spoonful of gulkand occasionally as a little pick-me-up; it is also used as a sweet filling in some Indian dessert recipes. This time around, I decided to use it in a kulfi. The pairing of rose and cardamom ends up being subtle and dreamy, a perfect end to a meal. For the kulfi base, I modified this recipe from BBC food. Gulkand is so sweet that the kulfi does not need another sweetener like sugar or condensed milk.

Cardamom-Rose Kulfi

Serves 4-5, Preparation Time: 10 minutes (not including freezing time)
1 12-oz can evaporated milk
1 small carton (half pint) heavy cream
2-3 tbsp gulkand (rose jam) (or more to taste)
2 tbsp milk
1 heaped tsp cornflour
1 tsp cardamom powder
1. Stir in the cornflour into the milk and set aside.
2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the evaporated milk until it is almost boiling.
3. Add the cornflour-milk mixture and the heavy cream and boil for a minute (to cook the cornflour).
4. Take off the heat, allow it to cool almost to room temperature, then stir in the cardamom and gulkand.
5. Pour into a container and set in the freezer. Mix up the kulfi every 2 hours to break any ice crystals. It should set in 8-10 hours at the most.
6. Serve small scoops of the kulfi with extra gulkand on the side if desired.

I was absolutely thrilled with the result! It was so subtle and aromatic, a real treat for the taste-buds. I know I will be making this recipe again and again (till the precious gulkand lasts, anyway)! Next time, I might tweak the recipe a little bit:
1. A few drops of beet juice might add a lovely rosy hue.
2. A couple of drops of rose essence might add more rose flavor (although I like the subtle taste just as well).
3. I think toasted crushed almonds would work really well in this recipe and add an extra flavor dimension.

If you happen to live in the NYC area, don't forget that June is Rose Month at the New York Botanical Gardens. I was just there last week and the roses are breath-takingly gorgeous! My favorite rose there: "Gourmet Popcorn"

Thanks for hosting, Barbara! I loved participating in this event.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Weekend Herb Blogging: "Shopping Local in Kolhapur" (a photo-essay)

I have been a fan of "Weekend Herb Blogging" ever since Kalyn first came up with the idea, but this is the first time I am participating in this fun event. Many thanks to Cate from Sweetnicks for hosting it this weekend!

This is a photo-essay depicting the vegetable market in my home-town of Kolhapur in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. All pictures have been taken by our Polish friend Lukasz . Lukasz visited India for our wedding and enjoyed capturing glimpses of everyday life in India on his camera. Of course, marketplaces are simply a whirlwind of activity in India and he spent quite a lot of time there. He was a very courteous photographer, always "asking" his subjects (with smiles and mime) if it was OK to take a picture. I thank Lukasz for being so generous and sharing these beautiful pictures and allowing me to present them on One Hot Stove.


An overview of the vegetable market: it is a big open area, covered with some tarpaulin for protection from the beating sun. Inside, vendors sit down in rows with their wonderful produce artistically arranged around them in baskets. All the veggies look so luscious and inviting! I love the concentric arrangement of the eggplants. The market also has a couple of stalls that sell stuff other than produce: Can you spot a colorful stall selling glass bangles in the right background? (Bangles are wrist ornaments and glass bangles are inexpensive, popular accessories: they can be matched to a saree of every color!)

This lemon-seller laughs self-consciously when she is caught in the middle of a tea break. I love the neat arrangement of the lemons, crowned with two colorful chillies for good luck.

These two ladies are selling (left to right) green beans, ridge gourd and baby eggplants. Most of the sellers here are small-scale farmers who come from the outskirts of the city, hauling their fresh vegetables (packed in reusable jute sacks, not cardboard boxes). The taste of these locally-grown veggies in unbelievable. Note the small metal scales behind the eggplants: here the vegetables will be weighed and placed into your bag or basket. No plastic bags, no shrink-wrapped produce here!

This veggie-seller decided to pose with one of the vegetables she was selling. That beautiful, bright and huge cauliflower certainly deserves to be shown off! Selling vegetables is hard work and a business with a very low profit margin and no retirement plan; this lady is still working when she looks like she deserves to retire and get some rest.

Finally, here is a stall where the weary shoppers can buy themselves a little treat. This lady is selling a number of mouth-watering tidbits: (from left to right) slices of raw mango slathered in salt and red chilli powder; a fruit called jamun or chew up the purple flesh, toss away a large seed and are left with a bright purple tongue; next comes young tamarind (still in its pods) I discovered in Feb 2010 that this is actually a different variety of tamarind called vilayati chincha in Marathi and Manila tamarind in English; then gooseberries called amla in Hindi or avla in Marathi; and finally, dried salted slices of the same gooseberries, some are pre-packaged into a cone of newsprint, for convenient munching as you stroll through the market.

Have a great weekend, and eat your veggies :)

Friday, June 09, 2006

An Exact Recipe for a "Chaotic" Dish

I am back after being AWOL for nearly a month! Sometimes, work does get in the way of blogging. Over the past weeks, I have been cooking, maybe not as frequently as usual; instead making big pots of one dish and eating it over a few days. During busy times, there are a few tried-and-tested recipes that I keep going back to. These dishes are always
a) pantry-ingredient based
b) nutritious
c) hearty and comforting, so that they just hit the spot at the end of a long weary day.

A great advantage for a home cook is to have a few easy dinner recipes down pat. Those that you can throw together almost mechanically, without having to consult a recipe or having to rummage through the kitchen for a long list of ingredients. It certainly helps if the dish gets ready in less time than it would take for a bag of greasy take-out to arrive at your door.

One such recipe is "khichdi". A blend of rice and lentils cooked together, it offers both carbs and protein in one nutritious package. Since khichdi is one of those inexact dishes where you can dump in almost anything you can think off, the word "khichdi" in Hindi also colloquially means "chaos".
Chaos is fine, but anyone attempting to make khichdi for the first time might like a recipe, so here is mine, tried and tested. The inspiration for this khichdi is the traditional Gujarati-style khichdi, made from moong beans which have their skins on:
I love the way this lentil cooks with the rice resulting in the perfect consistency. NYC has been so rainy, damp, chilly and miserable in the past few days: this khichdi got made several times, I can tell ya!

Moong Dal Khichdi

Prep. Time: 30 minutes (only 5-10 minutes active time), Serves 2-3
1/2 cup moong dal (the kind shown above, available in Indian stores)
1/2 cup rice
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
5-6 curry leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
salt to taste
1 tbsp oil
1. Heat oil, then temper with the cumin and mustard seeds.
2. Add onion, garlic, curry leaves and saute for a minute.
3. Add turmeric, red chilli powder, coriander powder and salt and stir for a few seconds.
4. Add the rice, dal and 3 cups water.
5. Bring to a boil, then simmer until everything cooks together as a mushy, delicious mix.

1. This recipe is best done in a pressure cooker, but can certainly also work on the stove-top in a covered pot.
2. If you have veggies on hand, saute a cup of diced veggies (peas, zucchini, cauliflower, carrot work well) between step 2 and 3, and add another 1/2 cup of water in step 4.
3. A great variation is "gili" or wet khichdi, in which you would add another cup of water at step 4, resulting in a slurpy, soupy consistency.
4. Serve with a dollop of ghee and some pickle on the side, if desired. I served this last night with some sauteed red cabbage-and-peas.
I'll see you again in 3-4 days (promise!). Thanks for being patient!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Destination: New York City

Maki of "I was just really hungry" (I certainly identify with that feeling!) is hosting an exciting event called Food Destinations. The challenge is to answer the question: "If my favorite foodie came to town, where would I take her/him?"

Which is certainly a huge challenge for me. The problem with living in the legendary Gotham City is that everything that had to be said about it food-wise has already been said. Or has it? Well, I fall into a certain demographic: an Indian vegetarian graduate student who has been living in NYC for half a decade. This means that the places I eat out at are veggie-friendly and super super cheap. Well, for what its worth, and in no particular order, here is my NYC foodie list:


Very New York Eats ...If you visit NYC, don't leave without tasting these three foods. They have one thing in common...CARBS baby, yeah!

1. Bagels: Much much more than simply a doughnut-shaped bread, bagels are traditionally boiled before being baked. A good bagel is chewy without being stodgy. You can find many great Bagel places in the city. Choose from a huge variety of bagels (sesame, poppy seed, plain, onion, jalapeno or the "everything bagel" ) and a myriad of cream cheeses (my two favorites are walnut raisin and vegetable). The picture above shows a sesame bagel with walnut-raisin cream cheese. V once ordered a jalapeno bagel with strawberry cream cheese, and now he wonders why everyone at Bagelworks (our local bagel place, where they make 'em right on the premises) gives him scared looks.

2. Thin-crust Pizza: There are entire blogs devoted to the noble search for good pizza in NYC, so go look for good options there.

3. Cheesecake: My personal favorite has got to be a tiny cozy bakery called "Two Little Red Hens" at 85th street and 2nd avenue. To my delight, a favorite blogger of mine loves this place too! Cheesecake is very easy to mess up (too sweet, too dense, too pasty...) but this bakery does it right.

Globe-trotting On The Subway... NYC is blessed with extraordinary diversity. For the royal sum of $2.00, you can hop on the subway and go visit the ethnic enclaves of Russia (Brighton Beach), India (Jackson Heights) or Greece (Astoria). So the next on the list:

4. Think of a country, any country that you like to visit, and then go eat in a restaurant that serves that cuisine. The internet is a wonderful resource for finding restaurants in NYC. One of my favorites: Ghenet for Ethiopian cuisine...there is something wonderful about getting together with friends and having a communal meal, Ethiopian style. Another good place for big group lunches is the self-explanatory Vegetarian Dim Sum House in Chinatown.

In the mood for Indian?...Try these (all of these next three restaurants are in the Murray Hill area of Manhattan, now informally referred to as Curry Hill):

5. Gujarati Thali: Show-casing the cuisine of the Western Indian state of Maharashtra, Vatan has some crazy decor, with the fake village scenes and all, but the food is amazing, and with the "unlimited" thali (multi-course) meal, you have to roll home at the end of the filling meal.

6. Southern Indian: Chennai Garden has impressively authentic South Indian fare (certified by V, who is Tamilian and M, who is a Kannadiga, so you don't have to take a Marathi girl's word for it). Try the "Gunpowder Masala Dosa" if you dare!

7. Indian-Chinese: You have to try this strange mingling of two very different cuisines. Every Indian I know gets regular cravings for Gobi Manchurian. And when that happens, it is Chinese Mirch to the rescue! Apart from favorites like Hakka noodles, try the crispy okra, which is not "authentic" Chinese-Indian, but addictive all the same.

Random foodie things...

8. Picnic in Central Park: Drop into any one of Manhattan's superb food stores: Zabar's, or Whole Foods, or even Gourmet Garage if you are a budget gourmet like me, and buy a baguette, a wedge of Brie, some fruit, kettle cooked potato chips and some fresh cookies, smuggle a bottle of wine into a bag, and go off and have a picnic in Central Park. Central park is the backyard of the whole city, and a great place for watching New Yorkers during their time off.

9. The Herb Garden at The Cloisters: This is an unsual one, but it is so worth trekking uptown and taking a look at The Cloisters, the medieval collection of the Met. The medieval herb garden is very cute, and the whole place is very charming. Foodie stuff apart, the unicorn tapestries are simply stunning (I was actually speechless for once in my life).

10. Hot Chocolate: To end the list on a sweet note, don't miss the hot chocolate at City Bakery (Union Square). I don't even like chocolate to be very honest, but that thick creamy hot chocolate is absolutely divine. If you happen to visit in February, it will be VERY cold and you will need hot chocolate anyway, so we are lucky that City Bakery conveniently has a Hot Chocolate Festival that whole month!

What can I say, it is a cliche, but I *heart* NY!

Click on the button for the round up of "Food Destinations" ...thanks, Maki, for hosting this event!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Warli Paintings

I can't help sharing some lovely art-work with you. For the most part, this is a non-food post, but there is a food connection, I promise!
The story is that my parents have a big old water-tank in their backyard. Left to itself, it is a bit of an eyesore, with three large cement walls exposed to the garden. So my parents creatively treat the three sides as canvases and everyone who is so inclined is invited to paint their own masterpiece on the canvas. Made with oil-based paints, these art-works last for a few months till the elements beat them down.
Last month, my parents invited my aunt, cousin and sister to be the artists (the former two are actually professional artists, the latter is a finance wiz-kid but a born artist all the same). They were inspired by some very lovely tribal folk-art of Maharashtra, Warli Paintings made by the Warli tribe. These folk artists use rice flour paste as their medium (see the food connection!) to make simple plain white line drawings that are transformed into astounding visual imagery with sheer creativity. Read more about Warli art here.

Here is what the three artists in the family came up with (to see the pictures up close, click on them to go to the flickr site where you can view them at a larger size):

The first side depicts daily village life. A little hut with busy inhabitants, girls skipping rope, daily chores of fetching water, whimsical depictions of flora and fauna:

The second side depicts dancers and musicians at a wedding party. Notice the string of mango leaves at the top? Those are considered very auspicious during Hindu celebrations.

The third side depicts a wedding scene...the bride and the groom riding a horse, being trailed by more revelers.

How do you like it?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Jihva For Mangoes, With a Side of Ambe Dal

Oh, it is so nice to be back and blogging again! I just got back from a whirlwind trip of India, exhausted but happy. I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to all those wonderful people who left comments full of good wishes on my last post. I read and cherished each one of them but unfortunately never got the time to reply to each one.

I was so excited to come back and read about Indira's brand-new food blogging event: Jihva for Ingredients (JFI) where each month, we will focus on an Indian ingredient. I was even more excited to read the theme for this month: Mangoes! After all, I just got back from India where it was the very peak of mango season. This is just the perfect event for a first post after my blogging hiatus!

My parents' backyard in Kolhapur is dominated by a huge, old mango tree. Every summer, this tree sags under the weight of hundreds of wonderful alphonso mangoes. At the beginning of summer, the raw mangoes are used to cook a variety of dishes, and preserved in the form of many delicious pickles to be relished throughout the year. This year, the kairis (raw mangoes) were used to make "chhunda" a sweet-and-sour mango relish (I returned from my trip bearing two bottles of this delicious sticky stuff). Last year, the tree produced a huge crop of mangoes and there were a lot left over even after they were shared with neighbors, friends and acquaintances. My ever-resourceful parents managed to find a fruit-canning factory and to persuade them to can some of these mangoes. So lucky me, I also brought back two cans of mangoes with me.
Here is a picture of the backyard mango tree, taken from the window of the upper-floor bedroom that my sister and I shared when we were kids:
Can you spot these in the picture?
1. Branches of a coconut tree (a neighbour of the mango tree)
2. Branches of a "chikoo" tree (the other neighbor of the mango tree)
3. Two ropes...these are part of a little swing that hangs from the mango tree

For the "Jihva for Mangoes" event, I chose a typical Marathi dish called Ambe Dal. In the summer months, when the sweltering heat overpowers the afternoons, people are not often in the mood for hot tea. Panha, the mango drink that I wrote about in the A-Z of Marathi food, is often served in place of tea at afternoon events during these months. The traditional snack that accompanies the panha is this ambe dal. A cool, spicy, tart relish, ambe dal provides a great counterpoint to the sweet panha. Dal-Panha events are something to look forward to!

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the ambe dal to show you. The reason: I left the camera with V in India (he was to return this week but is facing some visa processing delays) so until he gets back, I have no camera! I had a choice between blogging sans pictures or not blogging at all, and I thought I would go ahead and blog and insert pictures at a later time.

Edited on 5/2 to add: I do have a picture to show you!!! My wonderful parents in India actually made ambe dal and took this picture and mailed it to me so that I could share it with you :) How sweet is that! Thanks, Aai and Baba for this fantastic picture!

ambe dal

Ambe Dal
Serves 2-3 as a snack, Preparation Time: 15 minutes (not including soaking time)
1 cup chana dal (split Bengal gram, available at Indian grocery stores)
1/2 cup raw mango, peeled and grated coarsely
2 tbsp minced cilantro
2 tbsp grated coconut
pinch of sugar
salt to taste
For tempering:
1 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4-5 curry leaves
2 red chillies, broken into pieces
1. Soak the chana dal for 4-6 hours, then rinse several times and drain.
2. Grind the chana dal into a coarse semi-dry consistency.
3. For tempering, heat oil, then add the rest of the ingredients. Add tempering into the dal and mix well.
4. Add the salt, sugar, mango, cilantro and coconut into the dal, mix well and serve.

I can't wait to see all the amazing mango recipes that everyone comes up with. Thanks, Indira, for hosting (and being the brainchild behind) this wonderful event!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A to Z of Marathi Food: Round-Up

We have finished our alphabetical Marathi journey, and it was so much fun! For those who joined me late, there is a section called "A to Z of Marathi Food" conveniently placed in the drop-down "Recipe Index" in the right margin of the blog, so that any letter can be looked up easily.

Vital Stats:
1. Time it took to cover the alphabet: 6 months (11th September 2005 to 11th March 2006).
2. Most popular recipe: Egg Rassa
3. Number of dishes made: 33

Why did I do this series? I have a deep love for regional food. The kind of food that you cannot buy in a generic restaurant. The kind which requires an invitation into someone's home, where it is made by loving hands and served with pride. I always wanted to represent Marathi food on One Hot Stove and while thinking about this on a long subway ride (the "6" train downtown if you must know), two quintissentially Marathi dishes that came to my mind were "amti" and "zunka". Hey, wait, that's an A and a Z! How fun would it be to make a dish from every letter of the alphabet? I pulled out a used envelope and a pencil from my purse and scratched out all the letters and started jotting down possible recipes to make. To my surprise, it was very easy to fill up most of the alphabets (save I, J, O, X, know I had to "cheat" on these). But would anyone be interested? I tentatively wrote the "A" post and was startled by the interest shown by many readers...and the rest just followed on its own.

Why did I choose the recipes that I did? I am a home cook, with the task of making everyday meals. By this criterion, I chose recipes that were easy, tasty and nutritious. Which means that I did not make many sweets (like ladoos and pedhas), fried foods (of which there are dozens) and elaborate preparations (like bakarwadi and puran-poli), choosing instead to make simpler preparations that are ideal for everyday meals. Some of these dishes are unique to Marathi cuisine while others are popular in different parts of India in one version or another. It was amazing to discover this "unity in diversity"!

Is this the end of Marathi food on "One Hot Stove"? Absolutely not! I am not going to do another series on Marathi food (not just yet, anyway), but will continue to try many new Marathi recipes and share them with you.

The Complete Marathi Menu

Dals and Curries
1. Amti Amti (Marathi-style Dal)
2. chavli Chavli Amti (Black-eyed Peas)
3. EggRassa Egg Rassa (Egg Curry)
4. Mugambat Moogambat (Sprouted Mung Bean Curry)
5. pithale Pithale (Chickpea Flour Curry)
6. solkadhi Solkadi
7. fixings Usal

1. dalimbay Dalimbay Bhaat (Sprouted Beans Pilaf)
2. VaangiBhaat Vaangi Bhaat (Eggplant Pilaf)
3. waran Waran-Bhaat
4. YogurtRice Dahi Bhaat (Yogurt Rice)

1. Bhendi Bhendi Fry (Fried Okra)
2. BharliVangi Bharli Vaangi (Stuffed Baby Eggplants)
3. fanas Fanas Bhaji (Green Jackfruit Stir-fry)
4. ratalaKees Ratala Kees (Grated Sweet Potato)
5. zunka Cabbage Zunka
6. Kaap Eggplant Kaap (Eggplant Slices)
7. Kwords Kothimbir Vadi (Savory Cilantro Cake)

1. sandwich Hiravi Chutney (Green Chutney)
2. LasunChutney Lasun Chutney (Garlic Chutney)
3. Kwords Koshimbir (Vegetable-Yogurt Salad)

1. chivda Chivda (Flattened Rice)
2. patties Farazbi Patties (Green Bean Patties)
3. jaali-wafers Jaali Chips (Potato Chips)
4. OnionBhajji Onion bhajjis (Onion Fritters)
5. bhadang Bhadang (Puffed Rice)

One-dish meals
1. Misal Misal
2. Thalipeeth Thalipeeth (Multi-Grain Pancake)

1. gharge Gharge (Fried Pumpkin Bread)
2. cocktail Imperial Cocktail (Ice-cream Sundae)
3. NaaralWadi Naaral Wadi (Coconut Fudge)
4. sheera Sheera (Semolina Pudding)

1. panha Panha (Mango Drink)

Popular Marathi dishes made outside of this series:
1. Sabudana (Sago) Khichdi
2. Batata Vada (Stuffed Potato Fritters)
3. Dodka Bhaji (Ridge Gourd Curry)
4. Shevaya Kheer (Semolina Pudding)
5. Bharli Mirchi (Stuffed Peppers)
6. Vaalache Bhirde (Hyacinth Bean Curry)
7. Paratlele Batate (Pan-fried Potatoes)
8. Kolhapuri Bakarwadi
9. Microwave Sabudana Khichdi

Typical Maharashtrian dishes tried and loved (from fellow bloggers):
1. Masale Bhaat from Ashwini
2. Microwave Besan Ladoo from Tee
3. Microwave Besan Ladoo from Nandita

More Maharashtrian Recipes from the Bloggers: Regional Cuisine event
Part I
Part II
Part III

Suggestions for Marathi Menus:

1. Humble Fare
Cabbage Zunka
Garlic Chutney
Plain steamed rice
Sliced onion

2. Luxurious Sunday Lunch
Farazbi patties
Egg rassa
Jeera rice

3. Tea Party
Masala chai
Onion bhajji
Naaral wadi

4. Home-style Weekday Dinner
Plain steamed rice
Bhendi fry

5. Marathi-style Chaat Party
Chivda (garnished with raw onion, cilantro and lemon juice)

6. Light Dinner
Hiravi Chutney
Plain yogurt

7. Home-Alone Meal
Plain steamed rice
Mango pickle

What next?
A few weeks ago, I was invited to my friend SR's home for dinner. SR lovingly prepared a complete vegetarian Bengali feast...Clockwise from bottom right, you can see (a) Cauliflower curry (b) Cholaar dal (chana dal) (c) posto'r bora (poppy seed-potato patties) (d) Tomato chutney (e) Dhokaar daalnaa (chana dal squares in tomato gravy) (f) steamed rice. All the flavors were so wonderful and exotic, I was left licking my fingers and relishing every morsel.
This dinner really brought it home to me...I love regional Indian food and want to study it more closely. SR and I are from one country, but we find each other's cuisines so novel. After exploring my own regional cuisine, I am ready to spread my wings and explore the whole country. So my next series is going to be a journey through all of India, stopping in every region and talking about its food and culture, learning some new recipes and tasting some new flavors. I want to make a little map where we can track our journey as we go along, down the west coast and up the east, then into the interior. Would you like to come along on this all-India foodie trek?

Finally, the announcement...
(Raise your hand if you skipped everything above and scrolled down to this bit) :) :)
Life in the next several weeks is going to get busy for me...I am about to take a ride on the matrimony pony. Yes, V and I are getting married on the 12th of April in India. We are both also reaching career milestones: V will defend his doctoral thesis and earn his PhD in two weeks, and I am in the final months of my own doctoral research.
In light of this whirlwind of events, One Hot Stove will be quiet for several weeks. I am going on a blogging hiatus till the end of April or so. I will be back with lots of foodie pictures from my India trip. If I get time, I'll stop by with some short posts for sure! Ciao!