Category Archives: South Indian
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.
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!
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.
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.
- 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)
- Rinse & soak the rice & lentils separately in plenty of water for about 2 hours (preferably overnight).
- 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!).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- crumble the boiled & peeled potatoes. Set aside
- 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.
- 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!
The banana tree has often been described as a perfect example of being totally useful from root to fruit. (well, considering that the ‘tree’ is in reality a mutant, giant grass, the description begs for quite a bit of clarification). The banana ‘plant grows from fat squat entities called corms which are the actual stems of the plant, the ‘trunk’ in reality is the base of the leaves which are tightly layered in concentric layers. In terms of its use, other than the fruit, the inflorescence (banana flower) is often used as a vegetable in Asian cuisine, the leaves are used for wrapping food for steaming, as disposable plates and the occasional umbrella. The fibers from the exterior part of the stems are used for textiles as well as yarn.
The core (or the heart) used for cooking consists of the central, compressed part of the stem, the part which cannot be peeled off in layers. Its been used as a folk remedy for kidney stones and thanks to its fiber rich nature, its a great vegetable to add to your diet for weight control. (Its another story that the stems are rarely seen even in the ethnic grocery stores here in the US of A).
The prepping process is not straight forward. The instant the stem is cut, it turns brown due to oxidation. For this purpose, the diced bits need to be immediately immersed in acidulated water ( for some reason, the medium of choice is water mixed with a ladle of diluted yogurt or buttermilk).
When the stem is sliced into coins, the immature fibers that stretch out need to be removed. Don’t get grossed out, these are not slimy like Okra or sticky like spider webs.
They’re more like strands of delicate cotton that are pretty strong enough to lift the slice of stem.
The optimal way to extract them is to gently twist the fibers out of the stem, using your index finger and discard.
The coins are then diced and added to the acidulated water, and left for about 1/2 an hour.
The banana stem by itself does not have a particular flavor, just a delicate vegetal, grassy aroma. This make it the perfect vehicle for adding your choice of spices as per your preference. The crunch of the vegetable even after cooking gives it a textural distinction that is rather delightful.
Banana Stem Stir Fry:
12″ banana stem core.
4 cups of water (whisked in with 1/4 cup buttermilk or yogurt)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 arbol chiles broken into bits
1 teaspoon split urad dal
1 pinch Asafetida powder
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric
1 sprig fresh curry leaves, torn
1/3 cup shredded coconut
salt to taste
Coconut oil for finishing
Prep the banana stem as per the instructions listed above.
Drain the yogurt/water mix and transfer the diced stems to a pot containing water with the turmeric added. bring to a boil and cook the stems for about 15 minutes until they’re pleasantly crunchy to the bite. Drain the water and reserve the stems.
Heat the olive oil in a wok and add the mustard seeds & the urad dal, just as the mustard begins to sputter add the broken arbol chiles and the torn curry leaves along with the asafetida.
Toss in the cooked stems, stir to combine. Add the salt and stir fry on medium heat until any residual water has completely evaporated. Stir in the shredded coconut to evenly distribute it. and transfer to a serving dish.
Drizzle with the coconut oil prior to serving.
Serve warm with rice and traditional South Indian dishes such as Sambhar & kootu.
I could not scripted it if I tried, but I had the opportunity of dining at two splendid dining establishments in as many days. The first, dedicated to Frontier cuisine of the North-west & Punjab, the second, a fitting complement paying tribute to the best of Southern Indian Fare.
The two styles of cuisines , (for those who are under the misguided notion that Indian food revolves around Paneer & Naan) , are about as alike as chalk and cheese. Its almost like trying to understand and compare two languages which never had any common origins or script to begin with. South Indian cuisine makes full use of spices that originated in its native soil (such as pepper, cinnamon, cardamom & cloves, originated and evolved in the Southern Indian peninsula). When paired with the magical aromatic combination of Curry leaves and asafetida, the end result is truly magical.
Dakshin, the flagship ethnic cuisine restaurant at the Park Sheraton in Chennai has consistently been THE place to go for great South Indian food. Some of the best memories of my life have been celebrated with a dinner at this very restaurant, The other half’s promotion to a Bell Labs DMTS, my son Ishaan’s first birthday, to name a few, and the taste memories of every one of them linger on pleasantly.
I needed no coaxing to visit the restaurant once again on a whirlwind overnight trip to Chennai for a family celebration. The only difference, I allowed myself the luxury of letting Sous Chef Harish advise me on what to eat, and the end result was an unforgettable culinary journey to be savored and cherished for all times.
The Beautifully designed menu
opens up to a cornucopia of dishes.
Every table is set with gleaming brass containers of deep fried Appalams (Paapads) , Vadaams (wafers made with Rice flour) and sun dried Chiles & guar beans,
and a selection of traditional Chutney powders.
Every female guest is welcomed with a string of fresh jasmine blossoms,
And then the Feasting begins!
Its starts off with dollar sized versions of classic Iyer (Tamil Brahmin) dishes such as the Banana Dosai and the Adai, a lentil pancake with a crunchy bite and an extremely satisfying chewy texture. While the Adai is a familiar staple in many households, the next offerings were completely new to me.
Little addictive hush puppies made with shredded plantains spiced with curry leaves, and classic masala Vadas with fennel. The palate cleanser at the end of the appetizers was mildly blanched Cauliflowers tossed in a heady blend of toasted cumin, crushed peppercorns and curry leaves.
I was practically in seventh heaven with these goodies when the Chef announced that they would be setting the plates out for the main course There were six different curries, each representing the different culinary regions of South India, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu as well as Pondicherry & Chettinad. These included a Tomato flavored dal from Andhra, A tamarind based curry with shallots from chettinad, a spiced potato roast, The classic ‘Ishtu from Kerala, and an amazing turnip Kootu from Pondicherry made with toasted garbanzo beans.
and the surprise , a divine, crispy Okra Stir fry with coconut (For an avid Okra hater like me, I actually not only tasted it, but liked it as well).
Each one of these dishes were paired with classic breads (if you can call it that) from the south, Flaky, layered Malabar porottas, Pillowy Aapams,
Freshly squeezed and steamed rice noodles,
which were topped off with a classic dish that binds all of South India together, Thayir saadham (Yogurt rice), served up with your choice of spicy Achars & ‘Thokkus’ (cooked chutneys)
And in saving the best for last, Chef Harish presented an unforgettably brilliant bread pudding from the erstwhile French colony of Pondicherry, a true genius of an idea bringing together influences not just from the Southern Indian Peninsula, but also reaching out the French influences from further east in Vietnam.
The bread in this pudding is a baguette made from rice flour, spiced with cloves and cinnamon, soaked up in a creamy coconut milk reduction redolent of cardamom, saffron & Pistachio.
Anything I write about this unforgettable dinner will not really do justice to the food that is served up at this flagship restaurant. The best way to experience is to visit and treat yourself to the best food that the deep Indian South can dish out!
Dakshin is located at the Sheraton Park & Towers, TTK Road Chennai , TN 600 018, Tel : (91) (44) 24994101
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.
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Ahh the lingering enduring pleasure of taste memory..Its been almost three weeks since I tucked happily into these buttery pastries and here I am already getting set to start making plans for an encore. I'm planning to experiment with a different filling but before I add that to my repertoire of croissant flavors, I just have to write this recipe up before the details gradually fade away, like the spice notes of cardamom & saffron that completely had me under their spell.
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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).
Still keep pinching myself at the amazement of how time literally & figuratively flies…It seems just yesterday that I nervously typed out my first blog post, meekly introducing myself & my ridiculously lofty ambitions of what I wanted to do. About two years later, I’m still at it, a testament to how powerfully passionate food can be.
(Disclaimer: I started writing this post way before it hit me that it was Oscar night.. & no, I promise, No sappy ‘You love me, you reeeally love me a la Sally Field!)
The 100th post seems to be a great time to pause, and thank everyone who have been supporting me. Can’t stop thinking about my parents of course, My dad, who was a foodie 50 years before it became the ‘in’ thing, He’d often recall how he would be ridiculed as a ‘theethipatteri’ (derogatory term for someone who appreciated flavors & tastes) by the standard band of extended family relatives.. So take that, you old fogies, I’m SO proud to be his daughter! My Mom, who never thought that her daughter ever paid attention to her perfect instructions for creating the best comfort food I’ve ever had. I so bitterly wish she was around for me to pepper her with questions & doubts. My aunt Lakshmi, who’s now my go to for questions & my uncle who takes pride in my yapping non stop about food.
My darling family (who happily double as guinea pigs), Ganesh, my other half, & my precious sous chef Ishaan who’s blunt comments about some of my dishes keep me in check as only a 6 yr old can, & he’s doing a great job teaching his kid sister to do the same!
My ‘gurus’ : The family of blogger & food authorities that I’ve stumbled upon via Panfusine & Facebook. Ammini Ramachandran, Monica Bhide, Suvir Saran, Raghavan Iyer and the sparkly duo of Jigyasa Giri & Pratibha Jain of Pritya books . I’ve a long way to go in terms of learning more about their passion for food and attention to detail. Thank you Aparna, Manisha, Sala, Siri, Harini, Soma, Dhivya, Lata, Sonali, Cynthia, Anu, Pavitra , Prerna, ..you make me so look forward to every morning and read about your wonderful culinary adventures!.. This is just a partial list, I could go on & on!
& Finally, The Almighty.. This recipe has been churning virtually in my brain for over a year, but chose to manifest itself in reality in time for this special post. My family looks to the reigning lord of Pazhani, as our guardian deity( Kartikeya, the lord of war in the form of an adolescent boy), Pazhani is a beautiful temple town in Tamil Nadu. The prasad, or holy offering at this temple is a thick pudding known as Panchamrutham. (Panch – five, Amrutham – ambrosia). Its made with five primary ingredients, Banana, raisins, jaggery, honey & dates. The method described below is NOT the traditional way of making panchamrutham, but comes pretyy close in taste, flavor & texture.
I’ve used this fabulous confection as a filling for a ‘kanafe‘, a middle eastern dessert made with fine shreds of vermicelli like Phyllo pastry. (the fine shreds are made by painting a flour batter on a hot surface & gently lifting the shreds). The shredded pastry then has a layer of nuts & cheese (like ricotta) between two layers, baked to a golden brown and drizzled with honey. The traditional way is to bake it on a sheet like baklava, but I opted to use muffin tins to get readymade portions.
So, here’s to the next 100 posts and my 100th recipe!
Panchamrutam Kanafe (makes 12 cupcake sized pieces)
For the Panchamrutham filling, you need: (makes about 2 cups)
3 ripe spotty bananas, peeled and slit lengthwise
6 tablespoons sugar
10 dates chopped finely
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup Jaggery (gud), crumbled
1/4 cup honey.
6-8 pods cardamom, powdered.
2 tablespoons water
Place the bananas cup side up on a foil lined baking tray, cut side up and sprinkle liberally with sugar. Place under a broiler & grill until the sugar begins to caramelize.
transfer to a mixing bowl along with the dates.
Add the crumbled jaggery, water, raisins & honey in a heat proof bowl. Microwave for about 1.5 minutes until the jaggery melts into a viscous liquid. Add this, along with the powdered cardamom to the grilled fruit & date mixture, and mash into a thick paste. Set aside to cool.
For the Kanafe, you need;
1 package Phyllo pastry sheets, thawed
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cup ‘Panchamrutham’
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Combine the panchamrutham & ricotta cheese together in a mixing bowl & lightly swirl around to partially combine.
Without unrolling the phyllo pastry, cut the roll into thin slices to obtain long strips of the pastry sheet. Add these to a large mixing bowl along with the melted butter.
Using your hands, shred the pastry as you evenly coat it with the melted butter.
Line the bottom & sides of a muffin tin with the butter/phyllo mix as shown below, reserving some to cover the top.
Spoon the filling into the layered cups. Use the remaining shredded phyllo to cover the tops of the filled cups
Bake at 325 F for about 20-25 minutes until the surface begins to turn lightly golden. Drizzle with extra honey if desired & garnish with shredded pistachio. Serve with cups of piping hot masala tea or coffee.
you may opt to omit the ricotta cheese & simply use the panchamrutham alone in the filling. I tried both versions & loved them both. Bon appetit!
Forget the picture above, Look down..Remember this fruit? Yep, the stinky durian’s lesser cousin the ‘Jack fruit’ .
People can be divided into 2 categories when it comes to this fruit, those who love it & those who loathe it. When the edible part of this monster fruit has been picked completely, the last of the sticky gummy latex like sap wiped off using ladlefuls of cooking oil and the whole pile of lemony yellow arils has been demolished, despite the dire predictions of horrible stomach aches,
all that one is left with is seeds the size of quails eggs. The outer covering which is smooth and oily textured when freshly ripped off the fruit, turns into a papery/leathery casing when dry. The seed is seldom thrown away, Its tossed into stews as a vegetable or roasted over a flame & eaten as a snack. Just like the classic chestnut.
I admit, the prospect of tackling a chestnut has always been daunting, kinda like storming a fortress. It was always easier buying freshly roasted nuts from the vending carts that dot almost every street corner in New York once nippy Fall weather rolls around. The aroma of roasting chestnuts is one of those iconic New York memories that is ingrained into ones brain for a lifetime.
This year however, curiosity got the better of me & I succumbed to picking a handful of them from the local grocery. A quick Google tutorial on roasting chestnuts & I was well on my way to falling in love with this delicious starchy nut.
To roast a chestnut..Score the rounded concave side of the nut with an ‘X’ using the sharp tip of a paring knife.
Place about 5-6 of the scored nuts on one of those grilling contraptions used to ‘puff’ up Rotis over the gas flame. (you can get one of these grilling thingies at any Indian grocery store). The scoring is necessary to keep the nuts from transforming into mini exploding missiles.
Once the outer brown shell has charred and starts peeling away from the nut, remove onto a plate and allow to cool. Break off the charred pieces of shell and peel off the brown papery skin that sticks to the meat. This is what you’ll be left with.
One bite into the aromatic flesh & I was instantly reminded of the roasted jack fruit seeds of days gone by. Which in turn led to thinking about all the wonderful dishes that these were incorporated into. The easiest is the classic South Indian ‘Kootu’, a stew made with pumpkin & coconut. The jack fruit seeds would be peeled, smashed and tossed in, to be cooked along with seasonings to reveal a characteristic smooth starchy texture. Almost exactly like a boiled chestnut. While I could have made this stew exclusively with chestnuts, it can be a time consuming process, roasting, peeling & chopping them, not to mention that they aren’t exactly cheap (retailing for anywhere between 3.99 – 6.99 a pound).
Butternut/ Chestnut Kootu
For the paste:
1/2 cup grated coconut
1 tablespoon Cumin seeds (Jeera)
1-2 red arbol chiles
Combine the grated coconut, cumin seeds & red chiles and grind to a fine paste using as little water as possible.
For the stew:
1 1/2 cups roasted & peeled chestnuts, diced into small cubes (~ 1.5 lb of raw nuts)
2 cups Butternut squash (or calabaza pumpkin) diced into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1/2 cup Coconut milk (optional)
1 sprig curry leaves,
1/4 cup cilantro finely chopped
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Boil the butternut squash, and chestnuts in 2 cups of water with the turmeric added. When the veggies turn soft, add the Coconut/cumin paste along with the salt and torn curry leaves. Cook down until the stew has thickened to your personal taste. Add the coconut milk as per your requirement (Disclaimer: I added it only because the red chiles I used packed a real punch) and stir to combine.
In a small cast iron skiller, heat the canola/olive oil till smoking and add the Mustard seeds. Once they’ve popped, add this mix to the stew to finish the dish. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve hot with plain rice.
On a visit to the Oriental grocery around chinese new year, I happened to pick up a rather large container ( the only size available) of Kumquats. These miniature oranges are so cute to look at & sniff, but can be quite challenging when trying to decide what or how to cook with them.
For one thing, this egg shaped citrus is quite reversed in its flavor profile. The peel is sweet & redolent of citrussy orange flavor, but once you peel it, you can barely make out 4 tiny segments bloated with inedible seeds. To top it all, the teeny bit of pulp is extremely lip puckering sour.
And so, these fruits sat on my kitchen counter for about 3 weeks. I kept weeding out the occasional rotten bad eggs from the rest, until i decided to use some of the peel for last weeks recipe. (yes folks, the pannacotta was garnished with candied kumquat peel, not orange)
Cut to my umpteenth sweep of Mrs. Ammini Ramachandrans book ‘Grains, Greens & grated coconuts’ ( I just have to read the recipes to take me into a gustational high!). This time, I stopped at the recipe for ‘Naranga curry’ (p. 178). If Meyer lemons were an acceptable substitute, why not kumquats?
Naranga curry is one of those quick Indian pickles that are whipped up for festive occasions when one does not have the luxury of having time to pickle the citrus fruit. A quick saute in oil softens the fruit and facilitates the absorption of the spice flavors. These do not keep well & have to be used up quickly. ( which is not an issue since they’re so delicious!).
Since i really did not want a sweet pickle, I had to peel the rind of, which was labor intensive, but I just juliennned to & added to to a large take out container filled with confectioners sugar. I’ll keep you posted on what results!
Except for the kumquats, the ingredients used are the same as Ms. Ramachandran’s list, but in different proportions.
For this pickle you need:
1 cup of peeled kumquats, (seeds & all)
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 tsp asafetida powder
1 tbsp Red chilli powder
1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
1 tsp mustard seeds
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp Fenugreek seeds, toasted brown & powdered.
Heat the oil in a pan & Saute the peeled kumquats till soft.
Using a fork & paring knife, make a slit in the fruits individually & scrape off the seeds from the softened fruit. Discard the seeds.
Avoid using your hands as much as possible & try not to squish the fruit to a pulp. Season with salt & turmeric powder, toss well & set aside .
In the same oil used for sauteeing the kumquat, add mustard seeds & allow to sputter. Add the red chilli, fenugreek and asafetida powders. Add the kumquat, stir to combine well & remove from heat. Allow to cool before transferring into a dry glass container. Ideally the pickle should ‘rest’ for a day before serving.
(but this tiny batch of mine never saw the light of the next hour, leave alone the next day!)
(Entering this post in the sweet heat chili challenge hosted by Michele & Lyndsey