Pesarattu, the mung bean crepe

Pesarattu

One of the luxuries growing up with a mom who stayed at home was her welcoming smile when we got home from school. And a piping hot snack that me and my sister would hungrily wolf down before running outside to play with neighborhood kids. Dinner time at our house was just after 8 PM, which still continues to be my habit. So a substantial snack was needed after school and to tide us by till dinner. Plus we needed all that energy for boisterous play anyway!

Amma (mom) used to be very creative with snacks. Sometimes it would be corn on the cob, grilled on burning embers and dabbed with a smidgen or salt and lemon juice or lovely fruit chaat (medley of whatever fruits are in season with a sprinkle of chaat masala). Sometimes it was more elaborate stuff like Palak Pakodas or Pesarattu. If you are familiar with Dosa, the Indian crepe, Pesarattu is its cousin made with Mung daal/beans/lentils. Unlike dosa, Pesarattu does not require any fermentation and is pretty much single ingredient if you don’t count the optional toppings/garnishes.

Pesarattu is uniquely popular in my Amma’s home state, Andhra Pradesh, and I inherited her fond love for this. During my visits to my Ammamma’s (maternal grandmother), my favorite activity was to eat Pesarattu at the ubiquitous street stalls around the bus station.

A bit of planning is needed because lentils need soaking. If split mung daal is used, 3-4 ours soak time is enough, but if you are using whole mung lentils, it is best to soak them overnight.

Toppings!..or garnishes! This is where the fun begins!! Amma always adds finely chopped shallots, diced green or red chilies, cumin seeds, chopped ginger and copious amounts of cilantro. I believe this is one recipe I follow her exact footsteps. Of course, I customize the garnishes for my kids because one doesn’t like onions, the other one doesn’t like cumin seeds ‘if they are visible’.

While making Pesarattu is not hard, the first couple of them could get sacrificed, until you get the knack of thinly spreading the batter on a hot griddle, especially if you are new at this. Trust me, even after making hundreds of these (easily) my first one is always a sacrificial lamb. I accept it, and so should you if it happens to you. It is the only path towards Pesarattu Nirvana!

Pesarattu Ingredients

What do you need (makes 8)

1 cup split or whole mung daal (soaked overnight)

1 shallot chopped (or 1/2 small onion)

1 tbsp (approximately) cumin seeds

1 tbsp (approximately) finely chopped ginger

1-2 chopped red or green chilies (or to taste, optional)

Big handful roughly torn cilantro

1 tsp salt (or to taste)

Oil as needed (melted Ghee can be used if feeling extra special)

 

How to make it:

  • Grind soaked Mung daal with salt into a pourable batter consistency. The batter should be thinner than pancake batter (it will not be gluey).
  • Heat a non-stick griddle on medium-low. Pour about a quarter cup of batter in the center and spread it around with the back of the spoon. It is best if you take a spoon with a scooping end so that you can spread it with the same spoon’s rounded bottom (see picture).
  • Dot the circumference of the crepe with oil (or ghee) and also oil any ‘holes’ and ‘tears’. These become crispy and oh so good.
  • Sprinkle the toppings as generously as you want. Slightly press them down so as to wedge them into the batter.
  • After 1 minute or so when the edges are turning golden color, loosen the edges with a spatula and gently flip the crepe.
  • Let it cook for another 30 seconds and flip back to fold in half to serve piping hot.
  • Pesarattu is typically served with hot (I mean really hot!!) Allam (Ginger) pickle. But I find nothing additional is really required. My favorite condiment is Maggi Sweet & Sour Ketchup, which as the name indicates, is a spicier and zestier version of tomato ketchup available in any Indian grocery store.

Tips:

Make sure you have the griddle on medium-low. If it is too hot it will be difficult to thinly spread the crepe. Also it will start cooking too fast before you can oil it and add the garnishes.

If the pan gets too hot, sprinkle some water to cool it off before starting the next one.

Again, the first (or even two) could be sacrificial lambs. Plan the quantities accordingly.

Pesarattu in the making

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Ghee, the golden elixir

Ghee, the golden elixir

Ghee, a form of clarified butter seems like a new phenomenon, but it is not. It has been an integral part of Indian culture since eons. Literally. It is mentioned in Vedas and mythological legends from thousands of years ago. Only now Ghee is finding a strong following outside India. Back home it is the definition of ultimate culinary indulgence. For some (ahem, me) it is something that they can’t live without!

Ghee, especially made from cow milk is considered very auspicious in Indian culture. So much so that it is used in worships at homes and temples. Ancient temples have the distinct aroma of ghee burning in lamps imparting inimitable calmness and serenity. Ayurveda (Indian Root Medicine) considers Ghee as an elixir for long life and advocate regular consumption. I believe the claim to some extent considering that Ghee has higher smoking point and hence may not decompose into carcinogenic components as easily as other lower smoking point oils. Further the heating of butter and draining off the milk solids apparently removes lactose as well. I even heard claims that Ghee consumption leads to weight loss. I don’t know about that because it is still a fat! So common sense says eat Ghee, like anything else in moderation. It adds a homey aroma and nuttiness when drizzled over anything from pastas to rice and daal (lentils) to desserts.

Rice, Daal, Ghee

In everyday life Ghee is so intertwined that there is hardly a meal without using it as a component, either while cooking or while eating. Even for infants as soon as they are ready to eat solids, ghee is introduced. Rice and daal (lentils) mushed together along with some ghee and salt is the everyday food for babies. In traditional South Indian meals rice with dal and ghee is a must. And that is how I mainly eat it besides using it for shallow frying nuts and dry fruit for Indian desserts and garnishes. I use Ghee to remedy chapped lips, especially on my kids. Nothing to worry even if they lick it off!

Making ghee is ridiculously simple. All you need is unsalted butter and a watchful eye to avoid it from turning from golden brown to overly brown which can happen rather quickly. Remember, Ghee is not just clarified butter, where the butter is melted and heated until the moisture escapes. Ghee needs a bit more simmering which is exactly what that coaxes the nuttiness and distinctive aroma out of melted butter.

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What you need:

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter preferably organic butter

How to make it:

  • In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add butter and melt it on medium-high heat. Once most butter is melted, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 8-10 minutes. It foams as milk solids are cooked and moisture evaporates.
  • Simmer until you see a nice golden color and a nutty aroma wafts. You may have to break up the foam on top a little to see the liquid below. Remove from heat. If you don’t remove at this stage, it will turn into a darker color. Still good and has more nutty flavor. Cooking beyond that point makes it slightly bitter and acrid.
  • Strain the ghee into a clean and dry container free of odors. Let it cool down before closing the lid. Ghee solidifies at room temp (especially in Winter). It can be left on the counter and stays good for up to 3 months. That is, if you can let it last that long.
  • Drizzle a teaspoonful on piping hot rice and daal. Heaven!!

Ghee. A Shade Darker.

 

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Indian Scrambled Eggs (Egg Bhujia)

Egg Bhujia

Yes, you guessed it! Scrambled eggs the Indian way includes spices…not the whole array, just a hint of this or that. While I love eggs cooked any way, egg bhujia takes the cake. It is a comfort food of sorts and as natural as cooking rice to me (hey, I am a South Indian, what did you expect?)

In a myriad of breakfast options in India, eggs are very near to the bottom of the list. When eaten, eggs are typically for lunch or dinner in the form of a curry of some sort to accompany rice or rotis. Also, egg is considered non-vegetarian by many, and even with non-vegetarians it does not share the table on auspicious days (which is pretty much every day for some people!). My point is, the versatility of egg demands more occasions. And you would still never be bored of repetition. Just like music tunes, I don’t think you can ever run out of new ways to cook eggs.

My favorite and simple way is to scramble them with some onions (or spring onions when in season) and few fiery chilies. If I am in the mood, I add few tomatoes. But the special ingredient is clove!!…crushed in a mortar and pestle along with some garlic if you want. That’s it! One clove makes a world of a difference. Clove or not, onions and chilies are a must. I may forget adding eggs to the egg scramble, but I would never forget onions and chilies.

Oh, by the way, in our house we typically eat it with roti or tortillas as in soft tacos, or with rice, or with bread as in a sandwich. If no one is looking I will eat it straight out of the pan!

Egg Bhujia Ingredients

What you need:

4 Eggs (farm fresh if available)

1 small green chili diced (deseed for less heat)

¼ of an onion diced or 3 spring onion diced (green and white part)

¼ tomato (if using)

1 clove

1 clove garlic

¼ tsp turmeric

¼ tsp salt (or to taste)

¼ tsp red chili powder (optional)

1 tbsp oil

How to make it:

  • Heat a wide non-stick pan on medium and add oil. Once hot add onion/spring onions and chilies. Cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally until they start turning golden brown.
  • Crush the clove and garlic in a mortar and add that paste to onions (It will be a scant amount…so you can use a splash of water to get that out and add that water to the onions).
  • Add diced tomatoes if using, and add salt and red chili powder and turmeric. Cook until the tomatoes turn mushy and moisture is gone ~3-4 minutes.
  • Spread the mix on the bottom pf the pan and crack 4 eggs into it. Let them set slightly, break the yolks and scramble them with a spatula to mix everything.
  • If you prefer big chunks, stir once in a while until the eggs are not runny. Turn off the heat and eat in whichever way you prefer!

Egg Bhujia in pan

 

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Southwestern Quinoa Pilaf

Quinoa2

I am a fan of leftovers. In fact, many times I cook extra to finish up the vegetables that are about to die in my fridge or to use up ingredients that I bought more than needed because they were on sale (ahem, don’t tell me you never did that!!). And if you buy produce in places like Costco (their organic produce is fantastic by the way), I justify that the price is still a deal, even if you throw away the leftovers. Only, I cannot bring myself to throw away food, unless of course it ‘aged beyond recognition’.

So when I make this quinoa dish, I always make a double batch. Not only to eat some now and save the rest for later, but also when I open a can of black beans, I’d rather use them all than storing in a tiny container which eventually gets pushed to the back of the refrigerator and finally forgotten. I recently made this for a Mexican themed gathering at our place and made more than needed to portion the extras into zip lock bags and gave away a few as ‘take home for later’ gifts to my guests and froze the remaining. And all I/they need to do is take out a bag and thaw for 20 minutes and heat it. Or if I am impatient I will rip off the zip lock back and nuke the thing in the microware for 3 minutes. Trust me Quinoa is very forgiving of such mistreatment and still rewards you with the same great taste.

Quinoa1

What do you need (for 8-10 people)

2 cups dry Quinoa

1 bunch Green Onions (white and green portion separated and chopped)

1 can Black Beans, rinsed and drained

1 bag of frozen Corn (about 1 cup)

1 Red bell pepper, diced

1 Tsp Cumin powder

1 Tbsp of Taco seasoning

3 Tbsp of oil

1 Jalapeno, diced and deseeded (optional) OR sub ½ tsp with red chili flakes

Salt to taste

Cilantro and Lime for garnishing

 

How to make it:

  • Wash quinoa thoroughly by rubbing between your fingers. This will help remove the saponins on the top layer of the grain, which otherwise makes it taste bitter. Rinse a couple of times.
  • Cook quinoa with 1.5 times water (in this case 3 cups of water) and a pinch of salt (more salt can be added later). I prefer to go a bit lower with water than the usual 1:2 for quinoa:water ratio to keep the grains separate and fluffy. Once cooked, spread it on a tray to dry/cool lightly.
  • If you are using a pressure cooker, electric rice cooker or Instant Pot, cook it the same way as you would cook rice.
  • In the meantime, in a wide bottom pan on medium-high, add the oil, whites of green onions and red bell pepper and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add cumin powder, salt, black beans and thawed corn and jalapeños if using (or red chili flakes). Toss to coat well.
  • Add taco seasoning (if you add this early the starch in taco seasoning clumps up and sticks to your spatula).
  • Taste and adjust salt as necessary (remember there is a bit of salt in Quinoa already)
  • Now add greens of the green onions just to wilt them on residual heat
  • Finally add the slightly cooled off quinoa and toss to combine. If needed, add more taco seasoning or salt.
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro and lime wedges.
  • Serve as a main dish or a side dish. Don’t forget the margaritas!!
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Vegan Khaima (Minced meat) Curry

khaima-pic-2

Last year, one fine day in February, I declared myself ‘Pseudo non-vegetarian’. You will see why shortly.  It was not an overnight decision. It was not a new-year resolution. It was definitely not health based. I think there are many other ‘vices’ I can give up before giving up on meat for health. My decision was mainly based on reading and watching videos on how animals are treated and slaughtered. I was on the fence for a long time. But all those times when a deep fried piece of spicy chicken was in front of me, I’d eat with no qualms. Somehow over time that urge dulled and now I think I can resist!! At least most of the time.

So I declared my decision to my husband, who was not surprised. He knew me being on the fence for a long time. My sister was a bit more surprised, but said jokingly the real test is when she makes Chili Chicken, one of my favorites. My mom was sort of surprised and probably saddened because I am giving up on chicken. To be honest, I never liked to handle raw meat anyway. People would be surprised that I never touched raw chicken to date—my husband would clean/chop/cube the already pre-cleaned chicken we get from the store. I would even make him add the meat to the cooking pot, if there was any need to touch it in the process. After he cleaned up, I would clean the counters again. If it was a chicken curry of some sort I eat the gravy and not the meat. So it was not a drastic or overnight transition for me. All said, I know I will make exceptions now and then…as long as that now involves something like Chicken 65 of Hyderabad or Kababs of Lucknow. I think anything less is not worth yielding to temptation. I still eat seafood, and even meat gravies. One thing I will never give up for any cause is Hyderabadi Biryani made with chicken or goat. Of course it is not the meat in Biryani that makes my mouth water, but everything else around it does—the masala, the onions cooked in the marinade and the divinely flavorful rice. So there is that—why I call myself a pseudo non-vegetarian.

In honor of my pseudo non-vegetarian status, I present you a vegetarian dish which is uncannily close to a popular curry my mom makes with minced goat meat, locally called Khaima (Khai pronounced as Tai in Tai-Chi). Technically Khaima means minced meat in Urdu, but since goat meat is the most popular and abundant red meat in Hyderabad, Khaima became synonymous to minced goat meat. Khaima has a chunkier texture than ground meat you get in US, because it is chopped and minced by hand with a cleaver on a wooden block, which is usually a sawed off tree trunk. That’s how it is even today in many meat shops in Hyderabad.

This curry comes together very quickly with my vegetarian substitute. In case you want to make it with real meat, account for the cooking time of the meat. My main ingredient is plant based protein crumbles (see picture–no affiliations). It is not soy based and has the right look, color and texture. When it comes to taste, of course it does not taste like meat….but I’d say its 90% there. Good enough for me to eat and not feel guilty about.

What do you need?

3 cups meat substitute of your choice. Crumbled to the consistency of browned ground meat

1 Medium onion

2 green chilies slit lengthwise

½ cup frozen peas

1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp red chili powder (or to taste)

4 cloves

1 in cinnamon stick

½ tsp fennel seeds

½ tsp Garam Masala

1 tsp salt to taste

2-3 tbsp oil for cooking

Mint & cilantro (for garnish)

img_3649-2

How to make it?

  • Add oil in a wide pan set on medium high heat. Add onions, and fry until translucent. Add green chilies and sauté for 2 minutes.
  • In the meantime, make a fine powder of cloves, cinnamon and fennel seeds.
  • Add the spice powder to onions and stir until you get a nice aroma
  • Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté for another minute
  • Add the meat substitute, frozen peas, and Garam Masala and mix well, cover and cook on medium-low for 4-5 minutes until the flavors meld and peas are cooked. If needed, add 2-3 tbsp of water.
  • Check seasoning and adjust to taste.
  • Garnish with torn mint and cilantro and a wedge of lime or lemon.
  • Serve hot with rice or rotis.

khaima-pic-1

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Egg Puffs

IMG_4641-2

Egg Puffs, as these puff pastry purses nestling a hardboiled egg are popularly known in Hyderabad, are widely available in every ‘bakery store’. Bakery stores are common in cities big and small back home, where baking is not an everyday activity. Its uncommon having ovens in homes. Sure, Tandoors (Indian clay ovens which are typically outdoors) are seen here and there, but mostly they are restricted to restaurants and communal cooking in Northern India. Plus, Tandoor is not conducive to make cakes or other baked goods other than Naans (flat bread). So needless to say, most of the baked treats are store bought. Even most stores are not equipped with a full-fledged kitchen or oven. All baked items are sourced from a central location. So wherever you buy them the city, they taste the same. They sell out like hot cakes (no pun intended)…hence them sitting there and getting stale is out of question….also known as safe-to-eat without worrying about tummy upsets!!

Puffs come in many varieties–egg puffs, chicken puffs, mutton puffs or vegetarian (curry) puffs. Typically the shape indicated what was in the puff. I guess this evolved to avoid confusion between vegetarian and non-vegetarian, lest a chicken puff lands on a vegetarian’s table. It could be tantamount to sacrilege! Curry puffs were rectangular, chicken puffs were square, and mutton puffs were round. Egg puffs came in a unique shape with the corners of a rectangle folded over and a glorious baked egg peeking through.

Making egg puffs cannot be simpler than boiling eggs and baking. Of course, if you use store bought puff pastry. In fact, I personally attest this is the simplest baked appetizer e.v.e.r. Although I call it appetizer, it is more common as a tea-time snack at home. Nostalgic!

I slightly complicated this (I had to, it’s my obsessive compulsion to mess with everything) by adding caramelized onions tossed in a pinch of garam masala for some zing. It certainly is a pleasant surprise to anyone who ate plain puffs before. Sometimes I just add a pinch of chat masala to deliver the same surprise but with lesser effort. Either way you do it, it will be a hit. I guarantee.

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What you need (makes 12 puffs):

3 hardboiled eggs, quartered lengthwise

1 Puff pastry sheet (store bought ones come folded thrice, just unfold and cut along the fold. Then cut each fold into 4 equal pieces)

1 cup caramelized onions with garam masala

Variations: Instead of caramelized onions you can use a pinch of Chaat Masala or some salt & ground black pepper (or red chili flakes).

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How to make it:

  • In each rectangular puff pastry piece, along the diagonal add a teaspoonful of caramelized onions and put the egg quarter on it and close the opposite ends with a dab of water. Arrange them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (non-stick preferably).
  • Bake in 380 F oven for 20 minutes, until puff pastry turns golden brown. Serve with hot chai.

Egg Puffs

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Masala Aloo Bajjis (Fried & Stuffed Potato Dumplings)

Alu Bajjis

I am glad to be back from the unplanned hiatus from this blog. I would think of this blog every day, but just did not have the time or mojo to pen down the thoughts and words that were swirling in my head. I am definitely happy that I got my mojo back with—Masala Aloo Bajjis, one of my favorite and reliable quick-fixes for snack emergencies. Aloo (potato) Bajjis can be described as deep fried potato dumplings where potatoes are sliced into thick rounds and then simply dipped in batter made out of chickpea flour (besan) with a pinch of this and that and deep fried to pillowy perfection. You can leave it like that, as humble comfort food or jazz it up per your mood, time, or whim. Once you try this, don’t blame me for any ideas that may pop up in your head to do this with anything in sight-sliced sweet potatoes or egg plants or onion or anything that can hold a round shape. Consider yourself warned!! Now that I am done with disclaimers, I will tell you my favorite way to jazz them up.

I have vivid childhood memories of eating copious amounts of ‘Masala’ Aloo Bajjis whenever we visited my grandmother’s house for summer vacations. Those vacations were so much fun. Free from school, pampered by grandparents, spending the day with no rush and no agenda. As sweltering heat would start to cool off, kids, sweaty from mid-day power outages and incessant play and fights would be shoved into evening baths. While we tidied up, my grandmother would buy fresh jasmine flowers from street hawkers and string them into long garlands. Then the girls and moms and aunts decked those insanely fragrant garlands in their braided hair. We would fight for how long a garland we need, not mindful if the braid or pigtails can hold all that weight. As this was going on, one of the maids would make a run to the street corner, for the Bajjis cart at the temple entrance. The Bajji vendor be making fresh Bajjis on order at lightning speed. There would be Aloo Bajjis, Onion Bajjis, Raw-banana Bajjis and Beetle leaf Bajjis. I suspect if he was not stationed close to the temple, he would have even sold egg Bajjis (any eggs or meats near a temple are usually a no-no). My vote was always for Masala Aloo Bajji, where the Bajjis are slit open to stuff the masala. He had this magic stuffing mix-which looked and tasted fiery and fresh and unstoppable at one or four. It had onions, fried peanuts, cilantro, green chilies all tossed in a bit of lemon juice and some type of red sauce. It was just divine. So nostalgic, that I always remember those moments when I mix mine up. I cheat with Maggi tomato ketchup, and get that taste, nearly.

Alu Bajjis

What do you need (makes 10-12 depending on the potato):

1 large potato, peeled and sliced into rounds as if you are making potato gratin

1 cup chickpea flour (besan)

1/2 tsp salt or to taste

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp red chili powder

1/4 tsp cumin powder (optional)

1/4 tsp coriander /cilantro powder (optional)

Oil for deep frying

Masala stuffing:

1 small red onion, finely diced

1 green chili, finely chopped

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

¼ tsp Chaat Masala (found in Indian grocery stores). If not available, use Garam Masala

2 tbsp Maggi ketchup (Hot & Sweet type you get in Asian stores) OR add 1 tsp hot sauce like Sriracha to 2 tbsp of regular tomato ketchup. Play with the taste to see what works best for you.

1/4 cup fried peanuts, roughly chopped

Squeeze of lemon

Few sprigs of mint

How to make it:

  • Sift the flour, salt, chili powder, baking soda and cumin & cilantro powders if using and add enough water to make a pancake like batter. It should be dippable for potatoes.
  • Heat enough oil for deep frying on medium high and add potato slices dipped in the batter. Fry till golden brown on both sides and drain on paper towels.
  • To make the masala stuffing, mix all the listed ingredients to combine well. Once the Bajjis are done, and reasonably cool enough to handle with bare hands, take a paring knife and cut the dumpling skin to make a small pocket. You can cut across or cut the top 1/4 along the edge. Insert the knife between the potato slice and skin to create a gap to stuff some masala.
  • Over stuffing is perfectly ok! It takes this snack from kid-friendly to grown up and rustic-gourmet.
  • Enjoy 4 or more with hot chai or cold beer. I am speaking from personal experience!!
Alu Bajjis
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