28 December 2008

Venn pongal

It finally got nice enough outside so that I could open the windows without freezing, and I'm enjoying it, although it's damp and rainy. That's OK! Best cure for a rainy day is a giant pot of Venn Pongal (it's in the book) with lots of black pepper. This time, instead of going the normal route, where I just use the split peas and rice, I decided to experiment with adding some vegetables in along with the cooking rice and peas.

I did just carrots this time, but since it came out so well, I imagine that I could branch out to pretty much anything else (turnips, corn, potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkin, squashes, courgettes, or whatever else I have lying about that I want to use up). The texture is still smooth and creamy, but the addition of vegetables makes it more complete feeling. Now that I see that it works, it also looks like a really easy way to get us both eating more vegetables! Success never smelled so good.

24 December 2008

Cold and Rain

It's freezing outside, and seriously time to break out the spices and make a little pot of piping hot rasam. On the one hand, the snow is melting away, but on the other hand, your grip on the sidewalk is all the more precarious as the pockmarked snow turns to smooth ice. Suffice to say that the cold has not only blasted my creativity (mentally) but also motivation to get off my behind and make a proper rasam. It's why this blog post sucks so phenomenally. My brain is simply unwilling to cooperate. Thankfully, I managed to crank out a podcast episode last night, so you've got that to chew on for a while. 

18 December 2008

Advent Conspiracy

I'm not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but this video did make my ears perk up.

15 December 2008

Sunday was good!

My husband's friend Rehmah is having him over for dinner, and wanted suggestions on what to feed the boy.

His favourite is aubergine, done in any way, shape, or form. The easiest form I'd done is with some oil, garlic, onions, garam masala, and lots of ground red chili. You start with a screaming hot pan, and sautee your garlic and onion in it. Then, add the diced up aubergine, and sautee that over very high heat. It will sear the outside, and prevent the vegetables from sucking up all the oil in the skillet if you use very high heat.

When the aubergine is cooked almost completely through, I sprinkle in the garam masala. Just before serving, I add lots of ground red chili powder, and a touch of salt to taste, and serve. It's lovely with basmati rice, roti, naan, or bread. Also, any time you serve something spicy and smoky like this, it's always good to have a side of cooling vegetables, be they diced cucumber, chopped onions, or chopped tomato, with a bit of cilantro and lemon or lime juice. If you're not a fan of cilantro, by all means, use parsley.

As for appetisers, if you want to go the impressive route, bajji always does well. You make a batter with ajwain, rice flour, curry powder, and enough water to make it about the thickness of a crepe or pancake batter (you want the vegetables to be coated in batter, but not coated too thickly). Add a lot of red chili flakes to the batter itself to amp up the lovely flavours. Then, while your oil heats and your batter rests, slice up some potatoes, peppers, onions, or whatever other things you like to have as bajji, and keep them prepared for dipping and frying. I like to drain my bajji on a wire rack set over a cookie sheet.

Fry over high heat, and do the bajji in small~ish batches. You don't want to crowd the pan, as they will tend to stick together if you're not careful. I prevent this by counting to five before adding a freshly dipped vegetable to the oil. This makes it so that the previous bajji has time to float off on its own, and not crowd the new arrivals.

If you're looking for easy, however, you'll never go wrong with guacamole. Avocado seems to be coming in sale rather often, so try this on for size.

First, start with the best hass avocado you can find. Figure that each person will eat the equivalent of one. I'm not joking or making light here. When you set out guacamole, it will get finished. You don't want to leave anyone wanting for more. If you make a little extra, it stores just fine in the fridge, so make the extra and avoid the nasty glares from everyone. DO NOT, for the love of all that's holy, buy it from the store. For one thing, the cost of the avocado is much less than ready made guac. For another, they tend to add weird ingredients, up to and including dairy products, to store bought things, and it's best to avoid those if you can.

Per avocado, use 1/4 of a small onion (red onions are excellent, but white or yellow will be just fine as well). With a potato masher (I found this to be easiest) or fork or spoon or your hands, mash up the avocado. Add the onion and a bit of sea salt. If you don't have sea salt, then use half the amount of table salt that you think you'll need. Table salt has off-putting flavours that come from the iodide and the anti clumping agents added to it, and you don't want those interfering with your gorgeous avocado.

Use the smallest amount of lemon juice possible to give it a slightly sour taste. Any more, and it'll be ruined. Start with a 1/2 teaspoon, and taste it. If it seems a little bit sour, you're there. It doesn't need any more. That's it! You don't need to add anything else at all, because the garnishes will be very flavourful in comparison.

Serve the guac in a large bowl, alongside either red or green salsa, black beans, and a bit of yellow rice. Also, have plenty of chopped up other vegetables to pile up on for those who enjoy it. My brother enjoys pickled jalapeño peppers, and most of my family loves lots of cilantro to go with it all. The point is that now all you have to do is set out those little nacho chips with the little indented shape (they're called scoops or whatever), and you've got a lovely little interactive appetiser ready to roll, with minimum effort. If you buy tinned black beans, and a good quality salsa at the store, you've only got to throw together the guacamole!

12 December 2008


It looks like there's roughly 10 people confirmed from Steve's church, then a friend of mine from upstate (Yonkers), then another friend and his friend from North Carolina. And then me and Steve. Vodka in the fridge, tomato juice in the fridge. I've got like two kilos of kale, soaking in water (to clean it). I'll probably end up boiling up some potatoes (just to be on the safe side, in case I run low on other stuff). Dosa batter is soaked and just right, I've got some backup coconut in the freezer (because I can't find decent fresh coconut in the store). I'll probably end up improvising everything at the last minute.

11 December 2008

I just joined this website called Paperback Swap. What a good idea! My friend got me into it, and both Steve and I are rather excited by the possibilities. They basically took the idea of bartering, and brought it into the twentieth century.

When you post a book (it has to be in good condition), you take into account a couple of things. If it's a heavy book, like a text book, you'll be paying a little more in shipping, but the need is much higher, and it will most likely get sent off quickly. Same with a popular book: if it's something that a lot of people want to read, chances are that someone will order it quickly. It all ends up working out in the end, and coming up even.

Every time you send out a book, and it arrives in good condition, you get a credit to order someone else's book. The beauty of it is that people want to shuffle their collections around, so they're on the lookout to give away their books. It also helps you, because you're talking about Not having to go out and buy vast storage spaces for your own books. :) I'd definitely suggest checking it out:

PaperBackSwap.com - Our online book club offers free books when you swap, trade, or exchange your used books with other book club members for free.

09 December 2008

Mung Beans

For whatever reason (I blame the crippling cold), my mung beans refuse to sprout. Freaking not cute. I soaked them then drained them then let them sit in the sun for a bit, like I normally do, but no dice. That being said they did taste quite good even if they were only a tiny bit sprouted.

I went ahead and did them really simply, which involved cooking them in a slow cooker for about eight hours on low heat. Then, when they were tender, I did the standard spice popping thing (mustard and cumin only), sautéed some onions in there. Once the onions were good and brown, I pitched in the boiled mung beans, along with the cooking water. When everything came up to a full boil, I added enough salt for my liking, a good hefty dose of cayenne pepper, and some black pepper to taste.

Of course, the flavour is quite lovely, and the soup is rather warming. I didn't have to bother with the heater today because everything was toasty from the inside out!

08 December 2008

Lemon Rice

Steve has a potluck to attend tonight, and I'm figuring that it'll be best to make my life easier and make a batch of lemon rice. I'm doing a mix of 50% long grain white rice, and 50% white basmati rice. I'll be pitching in some cashews and rounding it out with a bit of lemon zest. This should be good.

07 December 2008

What to make with mixed company.

We've finally got to the point where we can have people over, and often times, it'll be mixed company. What do I mean? Well, there's some that enjoy "Indian food", those that have never had it before, and those whose tastes I'm not too sure about, because I haven't met them yet. On the 14th, Steve is having some of the people from his Church come over for lunch. Again, you're talking about mixed company, because I'm not sure what everyone likes. There are definitely going to be people who enjoy spice, and those whose tongues haven't acclimated to the fire yet.

Here are a couple of easy favourites that I try to have on hand:

Mashed sweet potatoes. Basically, you peel the sweet potatoes (about 3 lbs), and white potatoes (1 lb), and dice them up into one inch cubes. You boil them in a pot until they're tender. It should take about 25 - 40 minutes, depending on your stove and how uniformly you've cut everything. When you are boiling the potatoes, you don't want to go with a full, rolling boil the whole time. Instead, stick with a full rolling boil for about five minutes, then drop down the heat to low, and let it simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender.

Once that's done, pitch in a tin of coconut milk, some apple juice, and some cinnamon and a scrape of nutmeg. A touch of salt will help heighten the flavours all the more, and everything will be done to a turn. The texture of the sweet potatoes is a little bit grainy, so the white potatoes will help balance that out. Mash everything up with either a wooden spoon or potato masher, and serve hot. I've never had problems watching that stuff get eaten!

Hummus. This one's a no-brainer. Throw some cooked chickpeas in a food processor, a few cloves of garlic, a tablespoon or so of tahini (per eight ounces of cooked chickpeas), the juice of one lemon, a bit of cumin powder, and olive oil. Pulse until the chickpeas are kind of chopped up into small pieces. Then, knock down the chickpeas from the sides of the food processor bowl, and add a few tablespoons of water. Grind it down until it becomes smooth. If you want it to be smoother, add more water, a few tablespoons at a time, until it grinds to your liking. Along with the hummus, I usually serve toasted bread or cut up vegetables. Carrot sticks, cucumber slices, celery sticks, courgette slices, or whatever else you have on hand that you like to eat raw with a dip work excellently.

Guacamole. Again, an easy one to throw together at the last minute. I use Hass avocado, and figure on one per 3 people. I combine the avocado with lemon juice (just a teaspoon or two, tops), some minced onion, and salt. I quickly stir it around in a small bowl with a fork, so as to get it smooth, but still have little avocado chunks. You don't want the guac to be silky smooth. Some texture is quite nice. For a cute serving idea, I like to serve the guacamole inside the shells of the avocado that I vacated when I removed the avocado flesh.

Fried plantains. If you're up for it, do twice fried, but if you're not in the mood, just slice them thinly and deep fry till crispy. Peel your plantains, and slice them into 1" thick round slices. Deep fry them in medium high heat until they're tender. Let them drain on a wire rack, until cooled. Then, grab a tin of whatever you have lying around. I used a tin of beans, because it was there. Use the tin to smash the fried plantains into flat little discs. Press down gently, so that you don't break up the plantain slices. Then, get the frying oil screaming hot, and fry the plantains a second time, until they're crisp. If you decide to use thinly sliced plantains instead, you don't have to worry about the smash and refry step. They're quite lovely with some hot sauce or the guacamole.

Lentil/bean soup. Start with a deep stock pot. Heat up some oil in there, and add some cumin and coriander seeds. They should pop and crakle a lot. When the popping subsides, add some onions, garlic, and ginger (minced). Add a bit of turmeric or chili powder (not grond chiles; rather, the chili powder that comes with all the other spices in there already). Stir everything around in the pot until the spices and oil are mixed through. When the onions are soft, add in a package of lentils. I like red lentils, because they cook up in about 20 - 30 minutes. Add about double the water as you have lentils, and throw in a bay leaf. Cover the lid of the pot, and allow it to reach a rapid boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, and allow it to cook until it's all tender.

Flat bread. I like to have either naan, pita bread, or roti on hand, so that the other stuff is easy enough to eat. It's also a nice change from the typical baguette style breads. Because I'm going to the effort to cook the rest of the meal, I just usually buy these in the store. It's a lot less labour intensive, and it doesn't cost very much money at all.

Vegetable soup. There's hundreds of recipes out there, including the ones in my book. I always make the vegetable soup more like a stew, so that it's filling and satisfying.

Roasted veg of whatever I have. Again, no-brainer here. It takes just the preparation time, and then the time to pitch the lot into the oven with a bit of oil and some dried herbs.

Pesto. 1 bunch basil, handful of walnuts, 3 - 5 cloves of garlic, juice of one lemon, salt and pepper to taste, and olive oil to thin it out. Combine it all in the food processor, and let 'er rip till everything is smooth and creamy. Toss with hot pasta, to remove a bit of that raw garlic taste. The walnuts give a much better flavour than cheese ever did, and they stand up well to the pasta. I like to use linguine or fettucine noodles for pesto.

At this point, people are usually way too full to eat much more, so we kick back and enjoy the view of the East River, and the Manhattan skyline. :)