Saturday, September 19, 2015

Simple Vendakkai Curry (Bhindi/Okra Fry)

Vendakkai used to be my kids’ favorite vegetable after potatoes.  This was when they were very young and finicky about the food they ate.  They used to have bhindi with rasam sadam (rice) or with rotis.  Both my husband’s family and my family knew this.  So every time we went to India, everyone made bhindi for my kids.  At one point my oldest asked me if that is the only vegetable that they know how to make :)

Bhindi / Okra Dry Curry

We get vendakkai in our Indian store regularly, but the quality is not always consistent.  Sometimes it is so fibrous that I end up discarding half of what I buy.  At other times, they are so tender and tasty that I can’t make enough.

I make vendakkai in several different ways.  If the bhindi is good, then I make it without too much masala so that we can taste the vegetable without letting the masalas overpower the taste.


Here is what you need:

  • 2 tsp. oil
  • ½ tsp. mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp. cumin seeds
  • ½ large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 green chilies, slit
  • 1 lb. okra, washed and cut into small rounds
  • salt to taste
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder


Here is how I made it:

  1. Heat oil in a saucepan.  Add the mustard and cumin seeds.
  2. When the mustard seeds sputter, add the onions and green chilies.  Fry till they turn slightly brown.
  3. Add the cut okra, salt, and turmeric powder.  Mix well.
  4. Cover and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, till the okra is almost cooked – about 8 minutes.
  5. Add the chili powder, and toss to coat the okra well.  Cook on medium heat for 5 – 10 more minutes, tossing the pan a couple of times. 

Serve with rotis, rice, and dal or rasam.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Potato Bajjis (or Aloo Pakoras as some people call them)

I have been without my kitchen (well almost) for about 2 weeks.  We got some work done and the kitchen looks great now, but I was itching to get back and do some serious cooking.  I did sneak in a couple of simple dishes while the work was going on though - a few things that did not require a lot of ingredients or cookware to make. 

Bajjis (some people call the Pakoras and most North Indian restaurants call them that) are super easy to make and don’t require a lot of advance planning.  In my house, they are an all time favorite snack, and I don’t think anyone has ever said no to bajjis, if I offer to make some.  

Aloo Pakoras

Some form of bajjis or pakoras is available throughout India.  In the south, we add a bit of rice flour to the batter, while my friends up north only use gram flour (besan). 

In Tamil Nadu, traditionally, bajji and sojji (sooji halwa) are served, with filter coffee of course, when a prospective groom comes for the first time to meet the bride’s family   I don’t remember what we served my husband when he came to my house for the first time.  I don’t know if he remembers.  Anyway – I don’t think it was bajji and sojji :)

Bajjis are a perfect snack for a rainy or cold day – best served with chai.

Here is what you need:

(to make about 20 – 30 bajjis)

  • 1½ cups besan (gram flour/garbanzo bean flour)
  • ½ cup rice flour
  • ½ - 1 tsp. red chili powder
  • salt to taste
  • water
  • 2 – 3 large potatoes, washed thoroughly and sliced thin (you can use a mandoline or a sharp knife – I just used a knife)
  • oil for deep frying

Note:  I would slice a couple of potatoes first and see if there is any batter left before slicing the third potato.  Depending on the size of the potatoes, you may only need two.



Here is how I made it:

  1. Heat oil in a kadai or a deep pot.
  2. While the oil is heating, mix the batter.  Add besan, rice flour, red chili powder, salt, and enough water to make a thick paste (like pancake batter).
  3. Make sure your oil is hot enough, by dropping a small ball of the batter into it.  If the ball rises to the surface immediately, then the oil is ready.
  4. Take the sliced potatoes, one slice at a time, and dip it into the batter to coat.  Drop it carefully into the hot oil.  You can fry a few at a time depending on how big your kadai is.  I normally fry about 6 – 8 at the same time.
  5. Gently turn the bajjis and fry them, on medium heat, till both sides are golden and the bajjis are crisp.  Remove and drain the oil in a colander lined with paper towels.
  6. Repeat till all the potatoes and/or the batter is done.

Serve hot with chutney or ketchup.  And don't forget the chai!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Semiya Upma - Vermicelli with vegetables

Upma is one of those dishes that you either love or hate.  I truly believe that it all goes back to your first memories of eating upma.  If the upma is made well – without lumps, and is nice and warm, you end up loving it.  On the other hand, if your first experience was lumpy upma, then you end up hating it.  My theory goes out the window though in the case of my family.  Both my brothers did not like upma (and they grew up eating the same upma that I ate) and my husband did not like upma either, even though my mother-in-law made it really well.

I love upma – in any form.  I love arisi upma, sooji upma, semiya upma, aval upma, quinoa upma – you get the idea. But because my husband did not like it, I did not make it often, saving it for days when he travels or when he has a business dinner.  In the 21 years that we have been married though, I have converted him.  Though he won’t crave upma (like I sometimes do), he actually enthusiastically agrees if I suggest upma for lunch or dinner – especially if we have been eating a lot of rich, heavy meals.

Upma is a dish that adapts to what you have on hand. You can make a simple upma with just ingredients for tadka and sooji.  Or you can add a ton of veggies and make it to suit your taste.

Here is a version of upma that I made recently.

Here is what you need:

  • 2 – 3 tsp. oil
  • ½ tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. channa dal
  • 2 -3 green chilies, slit
  • few curry leaves
  • ½” piece ginger, slivered
  • ½ medium onion, chopped fine
  • 1 cup mixed vegetables (I used a frozen mix of corn, carrots, and peas)
  • salt to taste
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups roasted semiya (vermicelli) – see note

Here is how I made it:

  1. Heat oil in a pan.  Add mustard seeds.
  2. When the seeds sputter, add the channa dal.  Stir well and cook till the channa dal changes color.
  3. Add the green chilies, ginger, and curry leaves.  Mix well and fry for a minute or so.
  4. Now add all the veggies and salt.  I used frozen veggies.  You can add fresh veggies of your choice (carrots, beans, potatoes, peas, cauliflower, peppers – to name a few).   Let the veggies cook for a couple of minutes.
  5. Add water and turn the heat to high.  Let the water come to a boil.
  6. Add the roasted semiya and turn the heat to low.  Cover and cook for about 6 – 8 minutes until the semiya is cooked.

Fluff with a fork, and serve hot with chutney or pickle of your choice.  I mostly make it for lunch or sometimes a light dinner.  You can make this for breakfast too.

  1. I used roasted semiya.  If your vermicelli is not roasted, you can dry roast it till it turns slightly golden and then follow the recipe.
  2. You can also add cashews when you season the upma for a richer, more festive version of the dish.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Podalangai (Snake Gourd) Poricha Kootu

Kootu is just a mixture of dal and vegetables made into a gravy.  It is a healthy way of getting your daily dose of vegetables.   There are so many variations, it is hard to keep track of what each one is.  There is poricha kootu, mor kootu, masial, puli kootu, thalagam, molagootal etc., just to name a few.

Snake Gourd Kootu

My mom used to make some kootu or the other with seasonal vegetables, almost every day.  While growing up I did not appreciate the wholesome goodness of kootus.  I used to gravitate toward the dry curries – which need a bit more oil and are stir-fried.  But now, I love kootu and can eat it everyday.   

When I go buy veggies, I make it a point to buy sorraikai (lauki), paragikkangai, chow chow or some vegetable to make kootu with.  Occasionally my Indian store has podalangai (snake gourd).  I buy it every time I see it because it is a rare treat.  This time, I added kuzhambu vadam to my kootu.  My mom had sent me this.  It is a South Indian version of wadi and is completely optional.



Here is what you need:

  • 1 cup moong dal
  • 2 medium snake gourds
  • salt to taste
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric powder
For the masala
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 3 – 4 red chilies
  • 3 tsp. urad dal
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  • ¼ cup grated coconut
For tempering:
  • 2 tsp. oil
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1tsp. cumin seeds
  • ¼ tsp. hing (asafetida)
  • 1 tsp. split urad dal
  • 2 red chilies
  • few curry leaves
  • few kuzhambu vadams, fried

Here is how I made it:

  1. Rinse the moong dal, add enough water and cook in a pressure cooker till done (about 10 minutes on low after the first whistle)
  2. While the dal is cooking, wash the snake gourd.  Cut the top and bottom tips off.  Cut it lengthwise in half. Remove the pulp and seeds and dice it.
  3. Add enough water and place this in a pot.  Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes.
  4. In a small saucepan, heat a little oil.  Add the cumin seeds, red chilies, urad dal, and black peppercorns.  Fry on medium heat till the chilies change color.  Turn off the heat and let this cool
  5. Add the coconut to the fried ingredients and grind to a smooth paste with a little bit of water.  Set aside.
  6. Drain most of the water out from the snake gourd.  Add the cooked dal, salt, and turmeric.  Bring this to a boil.
  7. Add the ground masala paste and simmer for about five more minutes.
  8. Heat oil for tempering in a small saucepan.  Add mustard seeds, jeera, urad dal, and red chilies.
  9. When the mustard seeds sputter, turn off the heat, add curry leaves, and pour this over the kootu.
  10. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil to the same pan.  Fry the vadams (wadis) until golden brown.  Add this also to the kootu.

 Serve as part of a wholesome South Indian thali meal.

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