Friday, January 31, 2014

Puliyodharai ~ Tamarind Rice

A while ago, on one of my visits to California, my friends and I went to Half Moon Bay.   We were taking a leisurely stroll along the water, after a late breakfast, catching up on news and events in each others' lives.  The water was too cold for us to wade into, and so we decided to sit on the beach and enjoy the view.

While looking for a spot to sit, we noticed this Indian family setting up their picnic lunch.  They had several dubbas (containers) and were getting ready for a feast.  One of those containers had puliyodharai or tamarind rice.  We kept circling around them, talking loudly about how hungry we were, hoping to get invited, but were completely ignored!  

Tamarind Rice
Puliyodharai - Tamarind Rice

This incident brought back memories of the numerous times my mom has packed puliyodharai for our travels.  Whether we are going on a long train journey or on a day trip to some temple, she would pack chappatis or puris, potato curry, tamarind rice and curd rice.  Sometimes, she would replace chappatis with idli and molagaipodi.  She would wrap these in packets with banana leaves and newspaper, tied up with strings. By the time we ate the puliyodharai, the rice would have absorbed all the flavors, and the first mouthful lets you know that is was totally worth the wait!

Below is my mom’s recipe for pulikachal.  My friend Anu’s mom made Andhra style pulihora when I visited them recently.  She made it very differently, but it tasted fantastic.  We devoured several servings of pulihara followed by janthikalu over two days.  I will post her recipe soon.

Here is what you need:

  • ½ cup tightly packed tamarind

  • 1st tempering
    •  4 Tbsp. sesame oil
    •  4 red chilies, crushed
    •  2 tsp. mustard seeds
    •  2 tsp. channa dal
    •  ½ tsp. hing (asafetida)
    •  few curry leaves
  • Masala:
  • 1 tsp. white sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp. channa dal
  • 2 tsp. dhania (coriander seeds)
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 4 - 6 red chilies
  • 1 tsp. jeera (cumin seeds)
  • ½ tsp. methi (fenugreek) seeds
  • 2 cups basmati or sona masoori rice
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric
  • 2nd tempering
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • ¼ cup cashew nuts
  • ¼ cup peanuts
  • few curry leaves

Here is how I made it:

  1. Soak the tamarind in about 2 – 3 cups of warm water and extract the juice.
  2. Heat oil for the first tempering.  Add mustard seeds, channa dal, red chilies, curry leaves, and hing.
  3. When the mustard seeds sputter, gently add the tamarind juice and some salt to taste.
  4. Bring this to a boil, reduce heat to a medium-low and cook for about 10 – 15 minutes.
  5. While this is cooking, dry roast the sesame seeds. Set aside.
  6. Dry roast the rest of the masala ingredients.  Let it cool.
  7. Grind the dry-roasted ingredients to a fine powder.
  8. Add this masala to the tamarind juice.  Cook till this whole thing becomes a thickish paste (maybe 5 more minutes).  Turn off the heat.  You can save this paste in the fridge and mix it with rice when you need it.
  9. When you are ready to make the tamarind rice, cook the rice with a tiny bit of oil and turmeric powder.  Let this cool.  Make sure that the grains are separate. My mom would spread this out on a thambalam (really wide plate).
  10. Heat up the rest of the sesame oil.  Add curry leaves, cashews and peanuts. 
  11. When the cashews turn slightly brown turn off the heat.  Mix it with the rice.  Add the paste a little at a time to the rice and mix well.    

With this quantity of paste, you can make about 3 - 4 cups of rice.  It tastes best if you make this a few hours before you are ready to eat.  

Serve with potato curry, chips, and papads.  Goes great with avial too.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Lauki Raita

Lauki is not a vegetable I grew up eating, but I cook with it regularly now.  I make kootu with it, use it in sambar, avial, mix it with channa dal, or make kofta with it.  By far, my most favorite way to have lauki, is this raita.

The first time I had this was in my friend Soni’s place.  She is the only person I know that makes it.  Soni is an amazing cook.  Soni makes this when she makes Sattu Parata - another dish I have only had at her place.  If she makes this raita for dinner, and if there is any left over, I quietly pack the left-overs and bring it back home, to enjoy with another meal.

Lauki Raita

This recipe uses ground mustard seeds.  We don’t use mustard oil or ground mustard seeds as much in the south, so the taste was not one I was used to.  I know some people who just don’t like the strong taste, but I love it.  Soni says that you can use this recipe to make raita with other vegetables too, but I have only made it with lauki.

Here is what you need:

  • 1 medium-sized lauki (soraikkai/bottle gourd)
  • 1 green chili
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼” piece ginger
  • 2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 2 cups yogurt
  • salt to taste
  • cilantro for garnish


Here is how I made it:

  1. Wash and peel the lauki.  Dice it into small cubes after removing the seeds.
  2. Place the diced lauki in a saucepan with enough water to cover it.  Bring it to a boil and then cook on low heat, till the lauki is done. Drain and set aside.
  3. While the lauki is cooking, place the green chili, garlic, ginger, and mustard seeds in a small blender jar.  Add a couple of teaspoons of yogurt, and blend to a smooth paste.
  4. Beat the remaining yogurt with salt.  Add the ground paste and mix well.  Add in the boiled lauki and garnish with chopped cilantro.

Serve with paratas or pulao.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Grilled Paneer

A long time ago, when my kids were really young, we visited my friend Shabana, in California.  Shabana, at that time, did not spend too much time in the kitchen – everything she made was quick (she called herself the 30 second cook), but tasty.  She knew that my kids loved paneer and made this awesome grilled paneer for snack.  My kids loved it! 

Grilled Paneer

Inspired by this, I bought a table-top grill thinking that I would use it to make grilled paneer, but more importantly, would also use it to grill veggies and make fancy kebobs.  I had visions of making a killer marinade to coat the veggies and arranging them artfully on a skewer after grilling them.

This never happened.

I do make the grilled paneer regularly though.  It is a big hit with kids.  If I make it for parties, no matter how many blocks of paneer I grill, there will be none left for the adults.

The recipe is really simple and forgiving.  I just eyeball the measurements and marinate the paneer in the yogurt mixture for a while before grilling.

Here is what you need:

(makes 20 – 24 pieces)

  • 1 block store-bought paneer
  • ½ cup yogurt
  • 1½ tsp. chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. dhania (coriander) powder
  • 1 tsp. jeera (cumin) powder
  • 1 tsp. ginger-garlic paste
  • some fresh ground pepper
  • ½ tsp. chat masala powder
  • salt to taste
  • non-stick spray


Here is how I made it:

  1. Cut the paneer into rectangular pieces.
  2. Beat the yogurt and add all the spices, including the ginger-garlic paste and salt.  Mix well
  3. Add the paneer pieces to the marinade and toss, making sure that all of them are coated well.
  4. Cover and let this sit for about ½ hour in the refrigerator.
  5. Heat up your grill and place the pieces on the grill.  You can spray the grill surface with non-stick spray for easy clean-up, if you like.
  6. Close the cover of the grill.  Check after about five minutes and flip them over if necessary.  Grilling times may vary – so check frequently and adjust the cooking time to suit your grill.
  7. Repeat till all the paneer pieces are grilled.

Serve hot with pudina chutney.

  • The juices will drip – so place a tray or plate under the grill to catch the spills.
  • You can also use freshly minced garlic and grated ginger instead of ginger-garlic paste.
  • I sometimes add little bit of green chili chutney to the marinade.
  • If you don't have a grill, you can also cook this on a tawa, with a little bit of oil.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bread Upma

My husband has lots of cousins living in the U.S.  Though we don’t meet as often as we would like, we do get together enough that the kids have gotten to know their uncles and aunts and cousins.

A while ago, one of his cousins was visiting us with her family.  It was breakfast time and I was making omelets or scrambled eggs, depending on what people wanted, with hash browns and toast.  People started trickling into the kitchen and asking for one or the other.  Some chose plain scrambled eggs, some had them with veggies, some had cheese omelets, and some had desi style omelets.  My oldest did not feel like eating any of those, so I offered to make bread upma for him, and he jumped at it. 

Bread upma

I used to consider bread upma a lowly dish – not worthy of mention anywhere – especially in cooking blogs, but I changed my mind that day!  The cousin’s husband, who had already had an omelet, was bummed that I had not given bread upma as one of the breakfast choices for him!  Anyway, I made enough so that he could taste it too. I am reminded of the cousin’s husband every time I make this.

Here is a simple recipe for bread upma.  Tastes best with bread that is a few days old.  I had a lot of Torta rolls (very similar to ciabatta) left over from our ski trip and needed to use them up.  This a great way to use up old bread.  


Here is what you need: 

  • 2 tsp. oil
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. channa dal
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 2 green chilies, minced
  • few curry leaves
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric powder
  • salt to taste
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • 2 Torta rolls or 4 slices of old bread, diced into bite-sized cubes



Here is how I made it:

  1. Heat oil in a saucepan.  Add mustard seeds and channa dal.
  2. When the mustard seeds sputter, add the chopped onions, green chilies, and curry leaves. Sauté till the onions become translucent.
  3. Add the turmeric powder, salt, and chili powder.  Stir for a few seconds.
  4. Add the diced bread.  Mix well.
  5. Let this cook on low flame for a few minutes, so that the bread absorbs all the flavors.
  6. turn the heat up to medium-high flame, so that some of the  bread pieces get crispy.
  7. Turn off the heat.

Serve hot.  It really doesn't need any accompaniments.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Life’s simple pleasures – Ven Pongal

Ven Pongal – or the savory pongal, was my dad’s favorite dish to order for breakfast in restaurants.  We did not eat out that often, but if we were going on a trip or a temple visit, he would order pongal-vadai without fail, even if there were other, more interesting options available on the menu.

Ven Pongal

Pongal is also one of my husband’s favorite “tiffins” to have.  My kids don’t like it though – or rather are not willing to try it at all.  On nights when the kids have other plans or if I have something else for them to eat, I make pongal for my husband.

After Deepavali, I think Pongal was the next big festival celebrated in my house.  Pongal typically falls on January 14th, and is celebrated as the harvest festival in the south.  In villages, people cook  pongal with freshly harvested rice, in beautifully decorated earthenware pots, on a wood-fire burning stove.  People draw elaborate rangoli designs at the entrance to their homesThey clean up their homes and have bonfires on the day before pongal (called Bhogi).  Houses get a fresh coat of paint and the markets are full of freshly harvested grains and produce.

Note: Pongal is the name of the festival - as well as the dish.

Pongal (can you see the snow in the background?)

In my house, my mom would wake up early and after a shower, put the pongal panai (pot in which she will cook the pongal) on the stove.  She used a vengala panai (bronze pot) instead of the earthenware pot.  She would tie a turmeric plant around the neck of the pot and make both ven pongal (white pongal – savory) and chakkarai pongal (made with jaggery – sweet).  The meal would include vadai, some kind of mixed vegetable kootu, pachidi, and other goodies.  We would also have a couple of sugar canes as part of our feast.

I make pongal at home on the day of the festival – though I make mine in a pressure cooker and most often make it for dinner, because with work and school schedules, no one has time in the morning.  This is also the one time of the year that I make chakkarai pongal.  I will try and post that recipe soon.


Here is what you need:

  • ¾ cup split moong dal (this is a bit more than what my mom used to add – she added ½ cup)
  • 1 cup raw rice (I use sona masoori)
  • salt to taste
  • ¼ tsp. hing (asafetida)
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. ghee (don't use oil - ghee adds flavor to the pongal)
  • few curry leaves
  • 1” piece ginger, chopped fine


Here is how I made it:

  1. Dry roast the moong dal for 2 – 3 minutes.  Add this to the rice and wash in several changes of water.
  2. Pressure cook the rice and dal with enough water (I added 4½ cups), salt, and hing, on low heat, for about 10 minutes after the first whistle.  Remember that the pongal needs to be mushy. So add more water than you normally would for cooking rice.
  3. While the pongal is cooking, coarsely crush the cumin seeds and pepper using a mortar and pestle.
  4. Heat the ghee.  Add the powdered cumin-pepper mixture.  Stir for a few seconds.
  5. Add the curry leaves and ginger.  Stir for a few more seconds.
  6. Pour this over the cooked pongal.  Mix well.

Serve hot with thair pacchidi (raita), gotsu, sambar, or chutney.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Vegetable Puffs

Adyar Bakery is an institution in Chennai.  The original bakery is, of course, located in Adyar, and has been at the same location forever.   There are numerous franchises now and too many locations to list here, but I will always fondly remember the Adyar location.

We lived in a locality called Venkatrathnam Nagar, located between Gandhi Nagar and Indira Nagar - a small two-street stretch of homes, with a Ganesha Temple and a Corporation Playground close by.  The closest bus terminus (big bus stop with tons of connections) was in Adyar.

Occasionally, we would get off in Adyar, do some minor shopping and walk back home.  On some of those occasions, we would stop by the bakery to get bread for our breakfast, and my mom would buy us vegetable puffs.  The guy at the counter would warm it up in a toaster, put it on a small paper plate, and serve it with a dollop of ketchup.  Aaah! Bliss!

Now when I think back, those puffs were probably made in the morning, and were kept in the display case under the heat lamp for hours.  But in those days, they were a big treat for us.  It was an exotic dish – not something we could make at home – especially because Indian kitchens typically did not come equipped with an oven.

After moving to the U.S., I had the pleasure of tasting vegetable puffs again at a party.  The pastry was so flaky and the filling perfect!  I was mighty impressed with the culinary skills of my host and told her so.  She then let me in on a secret – pastry sheets!

I now use pastry sheets to make pinwheels and veggie puffs especially for parties and potlucks.  My husband had a holiday potluck party at work.  After a lot of discussion on various options, ranging from aloo gobi to store bought samosas, he settled on veggie puffs.

These are really easy to make.  I used Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets.  Each package has two sheets, folded in thirds.  I thawed them for about 30 minutes before using them.  From each whole sheet, I made 18 puffs (like the schematic below).

Here is what you need:

  • I package Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheet (with 2 sheets)
  • 2 tsp. oil
  • 1 tsp. jeera (cumin seeds)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into small cubes
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced into small cubes
  • 10 – 12 green beans, strings removed and diced
  • salt to taste
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • ½ tsp. coriander powder
  • ½ tsp. jeera (cumin) powder
  • ½ tsp. amchur (dried mango) powder
  • finely chopped cilantro
  • flour for dusting

Here is how I made it:

  1. Take the puff pastry sheets out of the freezer, to thaw for about ½ hour.
  2. Heat oil.  Add cumin seeds
  3. When the seeds change color, add the onions and sauté for a few minutes.
  4. Add the potatoes, carrots, and green beans.  Mix in the salt, turmeric powder, chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, and amchur.
  5. Cover and cook till all the veggies are done.
  6. Turn off the heat and add the cilantro.  Mix well and let this cool a bit.
  7. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  8. Remove one puff pastry sheet from the box.  Separate the three parts at the folds.
  9. Dust your counter with some flour and gently roll the puff pastry sheet a little bit, to make it stretch a bit.  Cut this into 6 pieces.
  10. Place a little bit of the filling on one half and gently fold the other half over, pressing the edges together.  Some people use an egg wash to get better color, but I did not.
  11. Repeat till this sheet is done.
  12. Place puffs on a cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes till the crust turns golden.  
  13. Repeat steps 8 – 13 for the remaining sheet.

Serve with hot sauce or ketchup.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Upma Kozhukattai / Pidi Kozhukattai

My maternal grandmother was a force to be reckoned with.  Her name was Lakshmi, but everyone called her Echchi.  We called her Echchi Patti.  She was a career woman before it was cool to be a career woman.  She valued education and instilled that appreciation for education in her children and grandchildren – or at least tried to.

She was a teacher, and never let us forget it.  She watched us like a hawk and could easily see through all our flimsy excuses.  If school ended at 3:00 and you were expected home at 3:45, she would start waiting by the gate from 3:30.  You better have a good explanation if you are late! 

Pidi Kozhukattai
Upma Kozhukattai

She mostly stayed with my aunt’s (mom’s sister) family.  Once my nephew was born, though, she stayed with us a lot, so that she could help take care of him.

My mom worked till she was 58 – so most often, when my brother and I got home, there was no one around.  It was a treat when my grandma stayed with us.  I did not have to warm up the milk to make Bournvita for my us, and we did not have to have just Marie biscuits or some other cold snack. When we got home, she would have something delicious waiting for us.

She had a standard repertoire and we would get some version of her comfort food for tiffin.  I did not appreciate the delicacies she made back then, but now wish she was still around so that I can learn some of them from her.

She would make arisi upma or the more elaborate pidi kozhukattai on several occasions.  I was not too fond of these growing up, but now, love the simplicity of the dish.  It is a traditional South Indian “tiffin” – one that you won’t typically find in restaurants.

You can eat these in a couple of bites, and since they are already flavorful, you really don't need chutneys to go with it.  It is really easy to gobble up quite a few of these without realizing how many you have eaten :)

Here is my Patti’s recipe for pidi kozhukattai.

Here is what you need:

  • 1 cup toor dal
  • 1 ½ cups idli rava (broken rice)
  • 2 tsp. oil
  • ½ tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. channa dal
  • ¼ tsp. hing
  • 3 red chilies, broken
  • 2 green chilies, chopped
  • few curry leaves
  • salt to taste
  • ¼ cup grated coconut (optional)
  • 1 tsp. coconut oil
  • non-stick cooking spray

Here is how I made it:

  1. Coarsely powder the toor dal. Mix this with the idli rava. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a wok or kadai.  Add mustard seeds, channa dal, and hing.
  3. When the mustard seeds sputter, add the red chilies, green chilies, and curry leaves.
  4. Gently add 5 ½ cups of water and salt to taste.
  5. When the water comes to a boil, add the coconut and the idli rava mixture, stirring constantly making sure that there are no lumps.
  6. Cover and cook till all the water is absorbed.
  7. Heat the coconut oil and mix it in with this upma.  Turn off the heat and let it cool.
  8. Grease a few idli plates with non-stick spray.
  9. Make oblong balls of the upma with your hands and place them on the idli plates – two to three to a mould.
  10. Steam in a pressure cooker for about 10 – 15 minutes.

Serve with chutney of your choice.  I served mine with Vathal Kuzhambu.

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