Category Archives: gluten free

Quick post.. A tutorial on Idlies?

I had no idea of what I would be blogging about, or even if I was going to post today. Yes, there are a couple of posts sitting in my drafts column, that I was to publish in the next couple of day, but it was never going to be plain Idlies. 

So, back to basics? What are Idlies? Answer: they’re basically spongy steamed cakes made with a fermented rice and Urad lentil batter. The perfect healthy blend of protein & carbs,  The fermentation confers a depth of Umami and one of the best things is that you can pair the cakes with just about anything, Sugar, ketchup, Sriracha, and the usual chutneys, the milaga podi, Sambar & yes, Fresh home made yogurt.

The purpose of this post is not about sharing a recipe for idli. Its a classic national dish and there are countless sites you could get it from. Its about discussing the myriad ways that one could shape them. I’ve been making unconventional Idlies  way, way before I even knew that there was such a thing as food blogging. (even if a certain pompous dame of the British Empire claimed along with BBC Good Foods (India)  magazine that they invented the cupcake mold version.), And I’m not alone, countless mothers  must have done this before me.   And it was out of pure necessity, in other words, getting my kids to eat healthy stuff in cute forms. Silicone cupcake molds were merely the first. They could be fitted into a conventional Idli stand with the lenticular molds  and steamed, and yes filled up with fresh blueberries or even a Hersheys kisses pressed in for a molten chocolate variety.

 Well, Its been years since I revisited the shaped idlies until yesterday when I spotted some long forgotten silicone molds from years ago and opted to make a kid friendly lunch for my son to get the week kicked off.

Before I knew it, I was out looking for more shapes just to use for this post. It turns out that Crate and Barrel the store from which I picked up the pumpkin and leaf mold had discontinued them and I had to settle on this Ice cube tray. 

well, they worked perfectly, did not twist out of shape when I lifted the tray onto the pan to steam, and the best part, the idlies just dropped out, unlike the conventional mold where you need to scoop them out.

MOLDED IDLIES

I’m just going to link the detailed recipe for the idli batter from my friend Dhivya’s blog ‘Chef in you’.

The Tovolo Jumbo ice cube tray accommodates 2 oz  of batter which produces a near perfect cube.

Brush the inside surfaces of the tray with oil. (it isn’t really necessary, since the silicone does release the finished product, but the oil really helps in sliding the entire cube out without even a morsel sticking to the pan).

Ladle the batter into the sections of the ice cube tray. Place the tray over a steamer basket in a skillet (with a cup of water added to the bottom. Cover with a lid and steam for 10-12 minutes on  medium heat.)

 If you do manage to spot silicone molds in different shapes like this pumpkin, pick them up, the work great for pretty party designs. (2 – 3 oz of batter steamed for 12 minutes). The only drawback is that you have to make them one at a time (or have a really wide skillet and an equally large lid to keep multiple molds flat without squishing them.)

So go ahead, think outside the mold and let the idli imagination run wild, your kids will love you for it!

 Bon appetit!

PS: An update: For more intricate shapes like this gorgeous snowflake, Just make sure to oil the inner surface of the mould design that comes into contact with the batter, Steam and allow the mold to cool down completely before attempting to push out the idlies. I used a seasonal silicone ice cube tray to make these beauties.

Inviting Light & Prosperity into our homes – Happy Diwali.

 Ever notice the best festivals & feasts usually occur towards the end of the year? I think it has everything to do with the days getting shorter. In South India the season kicks off with Krishna Jayanti in September, followed by Navratri, Diwali, Karthigai, Combined with Labor day in September, Halloween, Thanksgiving , Christmas & New Year celebrated in the US of A, thats a lot of festive days to look forward to. No wonder it gets dreary once January 2nd comes around, but then by that time, the days begin to stretch out longer again.

The concept  probably precedes religion, or co-evolved along with it. With the end of harvests, It was time to huddle up and and spend the cold months waiting for the seasons to change again. Festivals must have been a natural social response in the absence of  much to do and of course to dispel the invariable fright that darkness brings.

Well, I’m certainly not complaining, the plethora of opportunities to indulge in kitchen capers, the shopping spree for ingredients, whats not to love?
At home there are traditional dishes and then there are the creative ones, and the ones I like best, the healthy creative ones, the stuff that you can scarf down without having to worry too much about the amount of fat that went into it. This year the confection list included the decadent ‘T-B-A shortbread’
 

and a baked granola like chivda which I’ve been gulping down by the handful. This snack is common throughout India and has more than one name depending upon which state its made, Chivda, chevdo, chanachoor, mixture. Each state adds its own flavoring and ingredients. Raisins are common in the Maharashtrian version, plantain chips & curry leaves in the South Indian Mixture, Sugar in the Gujarati version and so on. The common thread in all these versions is that the final mix is invariably deep fried.Growing up in India, one of my favorite things about Diwali was savoring all the different versions that were exchanged between the neighbors and to this day, I cannot think of any one version that stood out. I loved them all with equal delight!

This weeks Diwali post combines all my favorite aspects of the chivda variants and makes it healthy to boot. The only deep fried part is the addition of broken purple potato chips. they make a beautiful contrast to the dried cranberries added to the mix.

Baked Granola Mixture

You need:
2 cups puffed brown rice cereal (the unsweetened type, I used Arrowhead Mills)
1 cup Rolled oats (Bob’s Red Mill has a great product)
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries or dried cherries, chopped
1/2 cup candied ginger, chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
4 oz kettle cooked potato chips (the thick ones)

For the tempering:

4 tablespoons sesame or peanut oil
1 heaped tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 sprigs curry leaves finely cut into a chiffonade
1/4 teaspoon asafetida powder
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons molasses

Line 2 cookie sheets with Aluminum foil. Preheat oven to 225 F.
Combine the puffed rice, oats, sweetened dried cranberries, ginger, pumpkin seeds and almonds in a large bowl.

Heat the oil in a cast iron pan. once it begins to shimmer, add the mustard seeds. Once they’ve ‘popped, add the cumin seeds. (Cumin fries much faster than mustard and thats why I add it after the mustard). Once the cumin seeds ‘split’, lower the heat and add the curry leaves. Stand back since they tend to sizzle and spatter oil around, thanks to the inherent moisture. Turn off the gas or remove the pan from the heat  and then add the cayenne, salt and asafetida. Last, add the Molasses (it helps to use a spoon coated with oil, to ensure that all the molasses just drips off the spoon without sticking).

Pour out the mixture into the center of the bowl with the other ingredients. Fold gently to coat evenly.

Distribute the mix evenly between the two baking sheets into a thin uniform layer.

Place into oven and bake for 20 minutes, making sure to stir the mix every 10 minutes. At the end of the 20 minutes, increase the heat to 250 F and bake for 10 minutes more. This ensures that the almond slivers get nice and crunchy. remove the trays from the oven and allow to cool completely. Crush the potato chips lightly and blend into the mix. Store in an airtight container once cooled completely.

Wishing everyone prosperous times ahead. Happy Diwali!

Product Review: Ninja Mega Kitchen system and a recipe for Masala Dosa

 One of the biggest reasons for attending conferences is the priceless experience of meeting fellow bloggers and get an invaluable exposure to all things  culinary. This includes vendors with new products to savor and get inspiration from.

I had no complaints about whatever appliances I had for making traditional Dosa (Traditional South Indian rice & lentil crepes) batter, a sturdy tabletop stone grinder that you could add the Urad dal, turn the timer on , and 30  minutes later, come back to a container full of fluffy, batter with the consistency of whipped egg whites. The
The cons of this is the cleaning up, of the various parts, the roller, the grinding bin, the multiple trays on which the rollers need to be placed while transferring the rice & lentil batter, the invariable drips of thick batter on the counter…. you get the point, It takes quite a bit of time.

I was pleasantly surprised when the appliance company, Ninja asked me if I’d like to try any of their appliances (the Ninja team at BlogHer Food ’13 were real stars in terms of the delicious food samples they made on site). I accepted their offer and picked the  Mega Kitchen system. Unlike smaller passive gadgets such as scoops & knives, Electrical appliances cannot be verified with one successful try. I had to run the machine through multiple testing sessions before I could bring myself to vouch for it (even though , the delighted cook within me was already raving about the machine to anyone who listened).

In my opinion, Dosa batter is definitely one of the toughest tasks that any kitchen blending system can be tested with. First, soaked, hydrated rice turns to the consistency of concrete when blended and this puts quite some strain on the motor. The Urad lentils have a glutinous texture and grinding this to a smooth paste is non trivial, let alone eventually whipping the batter into a light airy texture.The aerating part seems to be tackled perfectly by the design if the blender has to survive for a number of years in a traditional Indian Kitchen. (we Indians lay a lot of emphasis & importance on the durability factor).
In Ninja’s blender jar, 6 blades (which can be removed for cleaning easily)  stacked up over each other ensure that the lentils & rice are pulverized with out having to go through that whirlpool motion of the conventional models that draw the ingredient down. The Ninja system packs a punch in terms of power – 1500 watts of power.

The entire system consists of a Large blender jar (which I’ve been regularly using for making Dosa batter), a dough & food processor attachment, and a small single serve smoothie attachment which I find perfect for grinding masalas & dry spices such as the classic Milaga Podi (pictured above).

New York Times  had published an article last year about pairing Dosas with Champagne,  and of course, I simply HAD to test it for myself. The yummy  (and pleasantly tipsy) brunch that followed the photography session verified NYTimes claim to a T, with the emphasis that it paired best with  Dosas made with Ghee instead of sesame oil (as the regular day to day breakfast menu goes). While the recipe below describes the traditional way of dosais, I opted to make miniature versions of the dosas topped with a marble sized scoop of the Masala.


Masala Dosais:

  • 1.5 cups Jasmine rice
  • 1/2 cup Spilt dehusked Urad Dal
  • 1 teaspoon Salt.
  • Melted ghee (for drizzling over the dosai) and Sesame oil (for brushing over the griddle)
  1. Rinse & soak the rice & lentils separately in plenty of water for about 2 hours (preferably overnight).
  2. Grind the rice to a thick paste in a blender. Transfer to a large container. Repeat with the lentil, taking care to add sufficient water while blending to obtain a batter which is somewhat fluffy in consistency. (like beaten egg whites). Combine the rice & the urad batters with the salt taking care to mix well using your hands (yeah , its messy, & the batter isn’t even worth licking!).
  3. Cover & place in the oven with the light switched on over night. Alternatively bloom a packet of yeast in warm water and add to the batter. Allow to rest for an hour. Mix well before making the dosai.
  4. Heat a cast iron griddle. Add a teaspoon of oil & wipe it using a paper towel. When the pan gets really hot, pour about 3 oz of the batter in the center & spread it around using the rounded side of the ladle. Drizzle with 1/2 a teaspoon of sesame oil. (the batter will bubble up leaving nooks & crannies on the surface. when the lower side begins to turn golden brown carefully flip the dosai over & cook till the other side turns a similar color. Serve with your choice of chutney, or jam, or even just a dollop of yogurt.

  1. For making dosais with the potato filling, spread the batter on the griddle & drizzle with the melted ghee. (Cover with a large lid & allow the top side to steam cook.). Remove the lid, and place a scoop (ice cream scoop ) of the potato masala in the center. Using the spatula, gently roll the dosai around the filling. (Like rolling a burrito, but without tucking the sides in, I guess like a cannoli). serve with your choice of chutney, or sambhar.

Potato masala:

  • 4 large idaho potatoes, boiled & peeled
  • 1 large onion, quartered & thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded & finely chopped
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon whole black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
  1. crumble the boiled & peeled potatoes. Set aside
  2. Heat the oil in a skillet, when it just begins to smoke, add the mustard & cumin seeds & allow to sputter. Add the curry leaves and the onion. saute till the onion turns translucent.
  3. Add the crumbled potatoes, salt and turmeric powder. Sprinkle with some water, stir, lower the heat, cover & cook till the flavors combine. remove from heat, add the lime juice.

The Ninja Mega Kitchen System is available online via their website , or Amazon.com ( Ninja Mega Kitchen System – Model BL771)  or at any retailer in the United States or Canada.

A big Thank you to the folks, especially Sarah Knutson at Ninja Kitchen Systems for the opportunity to test this appliance!

Bon Appetit!

Gluten Free Rice Crepes and a Giveaway from OXO

Crepes.. Those delicate lacy handkerchief thin wisps of cooked batter, slathered with delicious Nutella, the kind of stuff that seems to be possible to savor & enjoy  in restaurants , food trucks and any other food establishments, EXCEPT the home!

To be honest, I’ve never attempted making a French crepe, or entertained the possibility of even trying. For one thing, my neurotic avoidance of using eggs and second, the general aura of the whole crepe making process.  The egg phobia thankfully, seems to be getting relegated to the past, with credit going to OXO for getting me to try some of their egg related tools. The recipes are slotted for future posts.

I’ve been a fan of OXO tools ever since my dad bought me a pair of OXO knives while settling me in Grad school at NYU (sometime in the last century). over the years, I’ve added a vast  array of OXO tools to my collection and have never been disappointed with ANY of my purchases. SO when OXO sent out a set of their latest tools for working with eggs,  I was more than happy to put the tools to good use. I already had an egg beater in my arsenal and OXO has graciously let me give away the  one they sent me to one lucky reader in the US of A.

Growing up, my mother would occasionally whip up these magical rice dosas which would be eaten along with a Tart tamarind dip made with fire roasted eggplants. They were known as ‘Kali Kanji dosai’ or ‘verrum arisi dosai’ depending upon whether I asked my mother or Paternal grandmother respectively (which in turn reflected their district of origin in South India).
The batter was made of rice, water and salt, thats it. The trick to make the starch bind into a crepe was to boil some of the batter (the stuff stuck to the blender jar) into a syrupy broth (the Kanji) and mix it with the rest. This makes the batter gel up into a crepe. The best part of the crepe is that it pairs equally well with savory or sweet fillings. I’ve tried this with warm Jack fruit Pate as well as caramelized bananas spiced with cardamom and frankly loved them both equally.




Rice Crepes with Cardamom spiced Caramelized bananas

You need :
For the caramelized bananas

3 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch slices
1/3 cups sugar,
2 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds

In a non stick skillet, add the sugar along the water and slowly  melt until the crystals begin to turn color and caramelize. Add the bananas and cardamom and gently toss to coat the pieces of fruit. Set aside to cool


(For the crepes)

1 cup basmati rice
1/3 – 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder (or) 1 teaspoon Rapid rise yeast 
1 stick of cold butter to grease the pan
2 cups water 

1/4 teaspoon salt
Microplaned pistachio nuts for garnish.

Wash & soak the Basmati rice in adequate quantity of warm water for about 3 hrs till its softened.

Transfer the soaked basmati with as little water as possible to a blender jar & grind completely into a very smooth (& extremely thick) paste (it’ll have the consistency of wet concrete). Add a cup of water to dilute the paste & give it a whirl in the blender to dislodge the thick rice paste. Transfer the batter into a container. lightly scraping out the sides of the jar.


Add the second cup of water to the blender jar & completely wash out the remaining rice sticking to the sides, lid & blades of the jar. Transfer this liquid to a separate container & SAVE.


Transfer this washed out rice liquid to a saucepan and bring to a boil. The liquid will take on a syrupy appearance, due to the starch swelling up (similar to what happens when you cook oats). Remove from the stove & strain this liquid into the batter. Stir to eliminate lumps. The consistency should be like that of crepe batter. (should have a yield of about 3 cups (~ 24 oz) of batter.
Add the salt,  confectioners sugar (adjust to your personal level of sweetness and omit for savory fillings) and the yeast or baking powder. beat thoroughly to eliminate lumps and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. 



Heat a 6 inch nonstick skillet over the gas.

Rub the melted butter over the surface of the skillet to season it. Wipe uniformly over the hot surface using a paper towel.

Using a (1 oz) coffee scoop spoon, pour 2 scoops of the batter ( whisk the batter well before using each time, the rice tends to sink to the bottom) into the skillet. Using the wrist, swirl the batter around the base & the sides of the skillet to coat evenly. 



Cover & cook over a medium heat for about 1-2 minutes till the edges begin to brown & leave the surface of the skillet. ‘. Gently dislodge the crepe from the sides of the skillet & slide it onto a serving plate. The Omelet spatula is perfect for dislodging the crepe and flipping it over.

Spoon about a tablespoon of the caramelized banana filling onto the center of the crepe and gently fold the crepes over. Garnish with the microplaned Pistachio shavings and serve warm.


 Bon appetit!

Now for the details on the Giveaway. I have ONE egg beater that Oxo has allowed me to send to a lucky reader. I can only ship within the USA for this particular giveaway, but hopefully there will be others for all those of you around the world in the days to come. To enter just follow the directions on the ‘Raffle copter’ box below. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Arancini – Iyer / Iyengar style!

When I was about 6 years old,  I once remember asking my mother for fried rice. It must have around 1975,  the first time I heard about new dishes  such as Falafel (which my dad, fresh from a 2 month posting to Kuwait, pronounced as 'Filafil' ) and Fried rice. Amma's repertoire of recipes at the time was restricted to traditional South Indian dishes with the odd Punjabi choley & Alu Mutter thrown in.
Read more »

All green Cranberry bean curry

I find Cranberry beans showing at my local grocers around this time of the year, although I have no idea how fresh produce like this turns up during winter (or maybe I do, but my greed for anything so green over rides my concern about the carbon footprint it leaves being transported from  where ever on earth it originally grew), its always a treat to use these gorgeous crunchy little beans in lieu of soaking dried beans and cooking them for hours to an end (or even worse, open up a can). Call it a prelude to spring!

For a change instead of mechanically reaching out for the spices in the pantry, I opted for the all fresh, green ingredient route (all except for the turmeric, used for a bit of color).  Although I could have shopped around for the fresh roots, it was not exactly feasible, given I wanted to have this for lunch in an hours time.

It can be quite exciting to make something with all fresh ingredients even if you are constantly stopping yourself from reaching out for the spices & blends that are taken for granted. The end result is a healthy vibrant tasting dish that is well worth the effort. and the best part, it is ridiculously low in calories. just 2 cups of the fresh cranberry beans yields about 4 generous servings and even with a potato and a generous slpash of olive oil thrown in to fry the green masala paste, it still works out to a healthy 4 points per serving. (~ 250 calories per serving)

All green Cranberry bean curry

you need:
2 cups freshly shelled cranberry beans (10 WW plus points)
1 medium russet potato, diced into cubes. (3 WW points)
1 – 1.5 tablespoons olive oil (4.5 WW plus points)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar

for the paste:
1 medium white onion
1 clove garlic smashed
2 tablespoons minced ginger root
1 cup Cilantro, stems and leaves
1/4 cup fresh green mango diced (~2 WW plus points, although they assign 0 points to fresh fruits and veggies)
1 – 2 green serrano chiles

 Set the fresh beans to boil in plenty of water. They should have a firm al dente consistency when cooked without the characterist ‘green’ flavor of fresh beans. The vibrant color will fade and the cooked bean will have more of  a dull white color.

Grind all the ingredients for the masala into a smooth paste. Set aside
In a pan, heat the olive oil and first add the diced potatoes, allow them to develop a golden color and make sure to toss the potatoes around so that all the sides brown well. (the potatoes need not get cooked fully).
Add the green masala to the potatoes, turn down the heat and cook the paste on a low heat until it loses the raw smell of the onions. Add a splash of water if the paste turns dry and starts coating the bottom of the pan. Add turmeric, salt and sugar.

Add the cooked beans along with some water. Cover and cook until the potatoes have turned completely soft, (even mushy). Since these are fresh beans they do not break down and release starch to thicken the sauce. The potatoes are added for that purpose. taste and adjust for seasoning The beans themselves will retain their shape and will show some resistance when bitten into.

Serve hot with Pita bread or roties.

 Bon appetit!

Homey fare reinvented.. Green banana gnocchi

Pan fried green bananas are not something you find in Indian restaurant menus. Sliced thin and fried golden brown with salt, turmeric, chile powder and a pinch of asafetida. and if the oil is coconut, all the more flavorful.

In fact this dish isn’t all that common even in South Indian homes. Green banana ‘kari’ is one of those dishes that people absolutely refrain from serving a house guest. The starchy vegetable is mostly relegated to  menus for days that call for austere introspection and remembering the ancestors. You’re most likely to find it on the menu on Amaavas (New moon day) served up with a ‘moar kuzhambu’ , a thick stew made with yogurt and fresh coconut, with different vegetables thrown in for the sake of variety ( given that the bananas are invariably done the same way).
I have no idea why this is a constant menu and could not find any suitable explanations as to why this is done. Perhaps one of you readers can enlighten me.

The green bananas are a treat to savor when spooned out fresh out of the cast iron wok in which they’re pan fried. but once they become cold, the starch tends to harden and become mealy and that is the end of the dish. Reheating does not do much to bring it back to its original texture.

Given that this is such a traditional ‘homey’ dish, I simply had to work on this unsung vegetable and much to my delight, a gnocchi fashioned on similar lines to the potato version, worked perfectly in the initial ‘feasibility’ experiment. The added bonus, the pan fried gnocchi taste just as good when cold. I made this dish two ways, One similar to a classic pasta presentation, and the other served up with traditional rice noodles.

Green banana gnocchi in a coconut and yogurt sauce.

For the gnocchi: (makes about 40 pieces)
2 raw green bananas (the Cavendish variety , NOT Plantains or the other kinds from the Indian store)
3 tablespoons Cornflour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne chile powder
1 pinch turmeric
table salt to taste.
Oil for pan frying

Cut the green bananas in half  and boil (enough water to submerge the vegetable)   for 15 minutes (the  flesh will begin to ‘peep’ out of the peel). remove fro. the water and allow to cool till they can be handled with the fingers. Peel off and discard the discolored green peel.

Add the salt and corn flour. Mash to a crumbly consistency.

Heat the oil and add the spices to ‘bloom’. (feel free to substitute other spice blends such as garam masala or harissa). Add the oil to the banana mix and, using your fingertips, bring together into a ball of dough.

 Pinch off marble sized bits of dough and roll into  a pill shaped ‘gnoccho’. Run each bit over a gnocchi press or the back of a fork to get the classic striations.

Heat the oil in a non stick pan. add  about 10 pieces at a time and pan fry until golden.

Coconut Yogurt sauce:

For the masala paste:
1 tablespoons split pigeon peas
1 tablespoon rice
2 tablespoons cumin
1-2 arbol chiles
1/3 cup fresh frozen coconut

Soak in 1/2 cup of warm water for about 15 minutes before grinding into a paste.

For the sauce:
1 1/2 cups fat free yogurt (preferably slightly tart)
1 1/2 cups water
salt to taste
1/2 cup diced tomatoes , (or your choice of vegetables such as butternut squash, okra or chopped greens)
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon split white lentils (Urad dal )
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 red arbol chile
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Whisk the masala paste with the yogurt, salt and water until the mix is smooth and lump free. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil and add the mustard, Urad dal, fenugreek and the arbol chile. When the mustard sputters, the fenugreek, chile and the lentils turn a golden brown, add the vegetables and saute until soft. Add the yogurt mixture and making sure that the mix does not boil, heat until the sauce loses its ‘raw’ aroma.

Serve the gnocchi either directly over the yogurt sauce ,

or mixed with the sauce over the rice noodles (prepared as per the instructions o the package).

Bon appetit!

Feasting my way to weight loss – A New Years resolution

I made a promise that I would reward myself with a complete break from posting after my daily marathon of A Dish a Day in 2012 and believed that  it was wonderful not having to constantly think about a new dish to post on January 1st 2013. Or so I thought. As much as I relished the welcome break of not touching my camera for seven days, The withdrawal symptoms drove me batty. It was hard stopping myself from going nuts at the grocery store and restraining my arms from picking each & everything that was remotely interesting. I made a compromise with myself that this year, I would resolutely focus on dishes that were healthy, delicious and came with the nutritive values attached.

I’ve been hooked on to fresh green garbanzos for a while now and never miss an opportunity to pick up some whenever I spot them. The texture is poles apart compared to the dried version (even the green dried ones). These are closer to edamame (fresh green soy beans)  in terms of their silky creamy mouth feel with the slightest of peach fuzz texture. & no trace of that starchy mealy texture that cooked dried garbanzos have. And the best part, Its pretty  low in calories , just about 250 calories per cup that fills you up completely.

I came across a recipe for Balilah in Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook, Jerusalem. What made me fall in love with this was that it was a Middle Eastern version of a comfort snack food that my dad introduced me to from ONE particular street vendor in Mumbai in 1998. He insisted that I try the snack just for observing the sheer attention to detail that that food vendor lavished on each cone of the ‘chane ki chaat’ (chick pea chaat). (This was a ‘defining’ moment for me, an unforgettable lesson to cast aside food snobbery and appreciate street food for what it is.) The resulting dish was a bejeweled mix of green chickpeas and ruby red pomegranate arils, interspersed with the tiniest bits of sweet onion and pinpricks of heat from finely, almost-minced green chiles. As I made this for today’s lunch, the memories came flooding back and the resulting version of my appetizer was a blend of similar street foods from two great culinary traditions. (With some improvisation thrown in!).

 I opted to used mashed up preserved lemons but regular lemon juice with some lemon zest works just as well.

Balilah with fresh green garbanzo & pomegranate:
(4 servings as a salad or 2 as a complete meal)

2 cups fresh green garbanzos 
1 cup pomegranate arils (~ 1/2 a pomegranate fruit)
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or red onions
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley 
1/4  preserved lemon, (or juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1 teaspoon lemon zest)
cracked pepper to taste
1 teaspoon finely powdered cumin seeds
Salt to taste

Steam the green garbanzos for about 10 minutes. rinse completely in cold water to stop cooking and drain. Combine with the pomegranate arils and the shallots.  Deseed the preserved lemon and mince the pulp and peel finely Add t the  garbanzos along with the cumin powder, peppercorn and the parsley. Taste and adjust for seasoning, the preserved lemon is quite salty so you may wnat to be careful with adding any extra salt . If using the lemon juice, add salt to taste along with the citrus.

Nutritional Info 

2 cups green garbanzo : 480 Cal (12 WW points)
1 cup pomegranate : 60 Cal (2 WW points)
1/4 cup shallots : 30 Cals (1 WW points)
Total calories / serving:  ~ 150 Cal ( ~ 4 WW points per generous serving)
The other ingredients, being primarily flavorants of the non calorific kinds, I’ve omitted the  nutritional values, 

If you’re interested in picking up a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Jerusalem, here is the link from Amazon.

A culinary spin around the 4 corners of India – Kothimbir Vadi from Maharashtra

 So now, I’m down to the final five dishes for Dish a Day.. and strangely enough, I feel I’m in the culinary equivalent state of ‘I have nothing to wear’. A part of me is scrambling to come up with some supercalifragilistic creation that I can post with a flourish, — but then again, Dish a day was never meant to be about Alinea or French Laundry like creations (with due apologies to Grant Achatz & Thomas Keller respectively). Its all about what the average home cook (& I’m going with what I’m familiar with, i.e the Indian household) with an affinity for cooking does for her family. An array of different flavors  and tastes, some a rocking hit of a favorite for the whole family, some that evoke a ‘Oh no!, not this..’ and then the others that we don’t even give  a second thought to before scarfing it down. It takes all kids of dishes to nourish a family!

I have no clue what the next four (make that the last three) days will bring, but today, its a tribute to a classic dish from ‘Aamchi Mumbai’ (My/Our Mumbai) in the western state of Maharashtra. Kothimbir Vadi , Addictive fried morsels of a steamed chickpea dough flavored with lots of fresh cilantro. I picked up a recipe from ‘Vegetarian Maharashtrian cuisine’ by Sugandha Patil, but decided to tweak the recipe to a gluten free version.

Kothimbir Vadi 

You need:
1 cup Chickpea flour
1/2 Bajra (Millet) flour
2 tablespoons Oat bran
1 teaspoon Baking powder
1 large bunch cilantro (~ 2 cups), chopped fine (Mainly the leaves)
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon Asafetida
1/4 cup sesame seeds. toasted 
2 green Thai chiles
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste
1 cup Kefir or soured yogurt
Oil for pan frying

Sift together the flours, Oat bran, along with the cayenne chile powder, turmeric, asafetida and toasted sesame seeds. Crush the garlic and the Thai chiles (with a bit of salt to assist in pulverizing) in a Mortar and Pestle and add to the flour along with the cilantro.

Add Kefir / soured yogurt to make a pancake like batter. Pour the batter into two 9 inch circular pans. Place these pans on a steamer and steam each plate for 15 minutes until the batter sets into a firm pancake. Allow to cool completely

Using a 1 inch diameter cookie cutter, cut out the pieces and perforate lightly with a fork (aka just poke the pieces once or twice with a fork).

Heat about 1/4 cup oil in a skillet and place about 6 of the steamed pieces at a time to pan fry for about a minute. Flip over and repeat on the other side. Remove onto kitchen towels to absorb the excess oil. Serve up hot with a cup of Masala tea .

 And yes, the classic Sriracha Sauce is by far the best condiment I’ve had to pair the little bites with. Its simply a perfect pairing!


Slipping through my fingers all the time…Traditions & nostalgic recipes.

 Slipping through my fingers all the time…

Hearing this Classic ballad from ABBA never fails to put me into a wistful mood, get transported to happier  carefree times. As I watch my son getting ready to shed his first tooth and getting excited about a visit from the  tooth fairy, a part of me realizes how I have to helplessly watch time race on and think back to a generation ago about my own experience of that evening when I first discovered that I was about to lose my first tooth. Amma consoling me about how this was a part of growing up and me, with a gargantuan lump in my throat, trying hard not to cry. It wasn’t all about that loose tooth. Even at that age, it was a feeling of loss of that cocooned part of life, of an innocent childhood, slipping away to be replaced by life’s ever increasing burden of heartaches & stress, with patches of thankless existence, endured solely for the sake of your own  children, who also provide you with some of the best moments of life as well.


For almost all children from my generation with  South Indian roots, a precious tradition that is recalled with fondness is the tradition of ‘Kayille kayille’ (translated as ‘in the palm’). This was a food session that required a quorum of at least 4 kids and one adult who doled out the food. It worked best with an assorted bunch of cousins gathered together for the summer holidays at the ‘native place’ as grandparents homes were referred to. Winding down at the end of the day, often in an open verandah to beat the summer heat (or the inevitable ‘power cut’) with unimaginable quantities of chilled yogurt rice.

Yes, the quintessential ‘thayir saadam’ was the star of this show along with the priceless stories & folktales from grandma that made the food magically disappear. The menu never varied. A HUGE pot of rice mixed to an almost porridge consistency with yogurt or buttermilk and seasoned simply with sea salt. The supporting role was played by a spinach and tamarind gravy recreated from left over sambhar & mashed spinach. These two dishes, served separately at lunchtime would invariably be mixed together and slow cooked down to a thick paste in a soapstone dish, the ‘kalchatti’. The older kids however, were lucky enough to be allowed to pair the rice with the spicy sauce from pickled baby mangoes, the vadu mangai ‘sauce’.

All the kids would be seated in a semi circle with ‘Paati’ (grandma) seated in the center with the food. With the backdrop of classic folktales & stories, cool dollops of rice would be dropped into the cupped palm of the right hand. As the outstretched hands got filled from one end to the other, We’d make a ‘well in the center of the rice using our right thumbs. As soon as the line up had received the rice, the sauce would be carefully dropped into the wells and the whole morsel would be scarfed up. A tiny plate or scrap of plantain leaf would collect the ‘drippings, which would in due course, be eaten up in regular intervals. The astonishing part of this tradition is the volume of food that would be consumed. You realized how much you’d eaten only while trying to get up and felt like a lethargic python that had just gobbled up an antelope!

To me, pickled baby mangoes represent my culinary ‘Rosebud’ (with due apologies to Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane‘), the single work of edible art that instantly transports me to a happy childhood, free from life’s maddening strife. The process of making this delectable pickle is a labor of love, but well worth the effort, for all the happy memories it rakes up.

Vadu Mangai  – Pickled baby mangoes in a mustard & chili pepper sauce.

(Recipe adapted from Grains, Greens & Grated coconuts, by Ammini Ramachandran)

You need:
~100  baby mangoes
1 cup  Kosher salt
2 cups arbol chiles, toasted & powdered
1 cup black mustard seeds crushed
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon Turmeric powder

Wash & dry the baby mangoes.  Place in a large ceramic bowl ( the white Corningware French baking dishes with the plastic lids work great).  Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of oil & shake well so that the oil coats the mangoes. Add the salt and turmeric powder & shake so that the salt sticks to the oiled skin) Cover tightly. Shake the container a couple of time each day for about a week.The baby mangoes release their moisture and this combines with the salt to create its own flavored brine

One week later

At the end of about 2 weeks, there will be sufficient brine to incorporate into a spicy sauce that the mango will be preserved in.

Drain off the brine into a blender jar. Combine the toasted arbol chile powder and the mustard powders  and blend into an emulsion.

Pour this sauce back onto the mangoes. taking care coat the semi pickled mangoes entirely.

Transfer the mangoes and the sauce into a dry sterilized glass jar. Pour the sesame oil to form a layer over the surface.

For the Yogurt rice:

2 cups well cooked & cooled Jasmine rice
cold yogurt or buttermilk as needed
a Sprinkle of kosher salt

Mix the ingredients in a large mixing bowl using your hands. Mash it to a consistency that kind of resembles cooked oatmeal. Serve in a bowl  drizzled with  the mustard chile sauce from the pickled mangoes.

Bon appetit!