Today's Menu

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tomato Mozzarella Breadsticks

For someone who grew up loving Paneer, fresh mozarella cheese was a revelation. Fresh mozarella is usually sold in little boxes as mounds of white cheese swimming in lightly salted water.
With Italian food, an assemby of a few simple ingredients can result in something that looks and tastes exotic. Here is my recipe for Tomato mozarella garlic toast which I put together one day and I'm pretty sure I will do it again.

Ingredients:

1 Roma tomato
1 mound of fresh Mozzarella cheese ( this is different from the sliced or shredded mozzarella)
1 length of frozen garlic bread
1 tablespoon olive oil and dried Italian seasoning



Procedure:
In a small bowl, mix the olive oil and italian seasoning.
Pre-heat the oven and toast the frozen bread as per the instructions on the packet till it is half cooked. Remove from the oven. Place the tomato and mozzarella slices on the bread alternatively. Drizzle the seasoned olive oil over the tomatoes and cheese. Sprinkle salt and pepper.
Return the bread to the oven and continue to toast for 5-7 minuted or till the cheese just begins to melt.
Your cheese breadsticks are ready to serve hot.



Variations:
Before serving, you can also drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar over the bread. Another good option is to place some fresh basil leaves on the toast.
To serve the above as a pizza breadsticks, spread some pizza sauce on the bread before placing the tomatoes and mozarella. Top with red chilli flakes and serve hot and melting.

Tomatometer:
Roma tomato is usually smaller and firmer than regular tomatoes. It is a good idea to use these for any baking dishes since they are frm and do not disintegrate easily and they are as tasty as regular tomatoes.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bombay Bhel Puri

Friday night dinner are always one-shot meals with no left overs - the perfect time for me to come up with some new experiment. My pantry was stocked with ingredients for chutney - tamarind, coriander,mint etc. and it all seemed to point to one dish - Chaat

A bit of history - Chaat is really the Mumbai term for sweet and hot - basically it refers to dishes where a number of ingredients are thrown together and dressed up with sweet chutney and hot chutney.
Bhel puri (a mix of ingredients which are mixed with sweet chutney and hot chutney and tossed,almost like a salad)
Pani Puri - this is a variaion where we have a puri which filled with some savory sprouts, beans, potato etc. and topped with the chutneys
Ragda patties - Potato patties drowned in a bed of spicy peas gravy and topped with chutneys
Other variations are dahi puri, sev bata puri etc.
We grew up on this street-side fare back in Mumbai, and now, I like to put these together and get creative with it.

This is my recipe for a really mouth-watering bhel puri


Ingredients

For the bhel
3 cups of puffed rice or kurmura
1 1/2 cup sev ( fried chick pea flour noodles)
1 onion chopped finely
a handful of cilantro
salt
1/2 tsp cumin pwd
1/2 tsp chaat masala
a pinch of kala namak ( blacksalt)
1/2 tsp red chilli powder

For the sweet chutney

1 cup tamarind
3/4 cup jaggery
1/3 cup dates
1 tablesp sugar
a pinch of salt

For the hot chutney
2 cups coriander leaves or cilantro
3/4 cup mint leaves
5-6 green chillies ( depending on your spice threshold)
a handful of peanuts
salt

Sweet Chutney
Put the tamarind,jaggery, sugar and dates in a bowl with enough water to barely drown all the ingredients and simmer on a medium fire for 7-8 minutes. Cool and make sure that all the tamarind and date seeds are removed. Grind the mixture and strain to get a thickpuree. The puree should be thick and yet runny. Bring this to another boil with the salt. At this point, taste the chutney to see of the sweet-sour quotient works for you and if not, you can always adjust it by adding a bit of jaggery or tamarind paste. After the first boil, switch off the flame - your chutney is ready

Hot chutney
Grind all the ingredients in the mixie till well ground. This chutney can be thinner than the sweet chutney

For the bhel.
Mix all the puffed rice, onions, cumin, chaat masala, salt and kala namak in a bowl. Add 1/2 cup of sweet chutney and 1/2 cup of hot chutney and mix well. Taste to check if the chutneys are well balanced and make adjustments if necessary.
To serve, ladle some of the above on to a plate, top with a generous portion of sev and decorate with a few sprigs of coriander leaves and serve with 3-4 papdis.

Some addition touches - My Bhel Puri has evolved over time and i have made a few changes to the basic recipe above. I like to add a a few cubes of boiled potato, some chopped tomato, roasted peanuts and chopped spring onion leaves to by bhel. To give it an extra dimension, I even add a teaspoon of tomato ketchup. You can get as creative as you like with this dish - add boiled garbanzo beans ( cholay) , sprouts, little diced cucumber, some mixed chewda, a handful of finely chopped raw mango etc.
The list is endless.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Vermicelli Payasam

This one makes for a great weekday dessert, simple to make and great tasting.
Payasam basically refers to a milk-baed dessert, the North Indian equivalent to this is kheer. There are many permutations and combinations that work - vermicelli payasam is one made with thin rice noodles and milk.

To make 2 cups of payasam -

Ingredients

2 tablespoons vermicelli ( thin rice noodles)
3 cups milk
6-7 spoons sugar ( depending on how sweet you like it)

Take a thick bottomed copper vessel - this is the best kind of vessel for payasam. Add the milk and let it come to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir from time to time, the milk should not stick to the bottom.
Add sugar, mix well and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes
In another pan, dry roast the vermicelli till it turns slightly golden ( dont allow it to brown too much).
Add the vermicelli to the simmering milk and let it simmer for another 5 minutes till the vermicelli is cooked.

The basic payasam is ready.
Vermicelli Payasam can accomodate a number of toppings.

slivered almonds - soak almonds in warm water for 10 minutes. Peel and slice thinly and add to the kheer
Other nice toppings are chopped cashews, pistachios, raisins or a pinch of saffron.

My personal favourite is to add 'Doodh masala'. This is basically a mix of a number of nuts and saffron which are ground coarsely and sold in little boxes. A teaspoon of this powder added to warm milk and sugar makes for a wonderfully rich and tasty drink - perfect for cold winter evenings. I like to add a spoon of this masala to my 'Vermicelli payasam' to give it a great aroma and flavor.

So heres to nurturing and nourishing that sweet tooth - enjoy!!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Perfect Sunday Upma

Sunday cooking has a different feel to it - the fact that our little family gathers together and eats at the dining table ( instead of at their desks at work). Also having the time to plan and make a variety of dishes - usually I dedicate an hour or two every Sunday to putting together something that suits the holiday mood.
Sunday evenings are special too, the family gathers over a steaming mug of coffee ( the authentic South Indian filtered kind) and enjoys some 'palaharam' or snacks before we go out on some evening activity.
So this is the recipe of upma - perfect for Sunday evening 'Tiffin'.

Vegetable Upma ( serves 3)

1 cup upma rava or cream of wheat.
1/2 cup mixed chopped vegetables ( beans, carrots, peas, cauliflower, cabbage)
1/2 of a tomato chopped into small pieces
1/4 of an onion chopped into small pieces
2-3 green chillies minced
1/2 inch piece ginger minced well
a few torn curry leaves
1 tsp chana dal ( Bengal Gram Dal) and 1 tsp urad dal(Split black gram dal)
1 tsp rai ( mustard seeds)
a pinch of hing ( asafoetida)
3 cups of water


parboil the mixed vegetables and set aside
Heat oil, add chana dal and urad dal and after a few seconds add mustard seeds. When the dals turn slightly dark and the mustard seeds begin to splutter, add the chillies and ginger. Stir Fry for a few seconds and then add the curry leaves and onions. When the onions get slightly transluscent, add the mixed veggies and the hing and stir fry for a few seconds till all the flavors meld for a bit. Then add three cups of water and wait for the water to heat up. Add the tomatoes and turmeric and salt to taste and wait again till the water comes to a boil.
The stage is now set to add the rava. Add it gradually with the left hand while stirring simultaneously with the right hand. The process is very similar to making cream of wheat.
You need to achieve the perfect consistency where there are no lumps in the rava.
When the rava and water are mixed in completely and the mixture has thickened,switch off the gas.
Wait for 4-5 minutes till the mixture cools, this will thicken it even further.
Your upma is ready to serve.
I think this dish does not really need an accompaniment, but some people like to serve it with coconut chutney.

The combination of wheat and veggies make it very healthy dish. Upma tastes wonderful when you top it with a spoon of ghee. I even like to add chopped cashews to mine.
Happy holiday all of you ( and ignore the Monday morning blues that are just around the corner).

Friday, April 14, 2006

Vishu dishes - Moru Kutan

Today is 'Vishu' or the 'Tamil New Year'. What an auspicious day to start something new. A bit of background here, I am a Tamilian, born in Kerela and bought up in Mumbai, currently residing in California.
Phew - what a confluence of influences.
To mark Vishu, traditionally we would prepare 'Moru Kutan' - a savoury stew made with yogurt.I guess the North Indian equivalent to this would be 'Kadi'.
We also prepare 'payasam' - also known as 'kheer', a milk-based dessert.
Moru Kutan for me is the ultimate comfort food - light and nourishing. This is our traditional recipe for 'Moru Kutan' or 'yogurt stew'

serves 4

Ingredients

Ash Gourd ( also known as Alavan) - a few cubes
1 cup dessicated/grated coconut ( grated is definitely tastier)
1 1/2 cups sour yogurt ( the more sour the better)
2-3 green chillies ( more if you like it hotter)
a tsp of dry rice
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp methi seeds
a few curry leaves for seasoning.

Procedure

Grind the coconut and the green chillies and the tsp of dry rice with enough water to make it a paste. The rice helps in thickening the curry.
Heat the ash gourd in around 1 cup water with salt and turmetic and boil on a medium flame till almost done. When it is almost done, add the coconut, green chilli and rice paste and wait till it begins to simmer.
Add the yogurt and lower the flame.
Wait till the very first simmer and then quickly switch off the flame.
Heat oil - when the oil is almost smoking add mustard seeds and methi seeds. When the seeds splutter, switch off the flame and add the curry leaves to the oil.
The leaves will crackle for a bit.
Pour this seasoning into the stew, mix well.

You can also replace ash gourd with yams - you need only a few veggies for this stew. The correct combination of coconut, dry rice and yogurt will give this stew the required thickness.
For a healthier version, some people like to use plain tofu instead of coconut and that works too.
Moru kutan is best served with rice and some home made papads.

So this is going to be my menu for today evening - goodbye and happy dining.