Vegetarian Concoctions

February 4, 2008

Chettinad chutney

Today’s story joins hands with Lakshmi’s request (made sometime in October last year!) to narrate how alert, attentive, observant and aware I am of my activites in the kitchen when burning cooking food and maybe you could learn a few tricks of the trade from a true professional by the end of this saga. When I first started cooking as a student, I could count the number of times I had cooked during the month by just looking at my hands….by the number of burn marks or cuts. It was inevitable and I had one everytime I cooked.

For the absent-minded person that I am, it amazes me that I have not encountered any major kitchen disaster like hot oil spills or pressure cooker bursting (this happened to my mother once and she escaped without a scratch) Yet! Small ones do keep happening every now and then.

Back in school days, one episode stands out. My roommates and I had invited a bunch of seniors for dinner that day. I came up with the idea of making masala dosa with chutney and sambhar. Sounded great, but dosa was an unknown territory for all of us. I picked up the samaithu paar book(the only cookbook in the cabinet) and hurriedly looked for dosai. Rice and Udad dal…how difficult can that be? We also had a blender now. The soaking time said ‘overnight’ and we had just about 4-5 hours. We could soak the rice and dal, go grocery shopping, make the chutney and sambhar and then grind the dosa batter. That should be enough time I thought. Then a brilliant idea struck yours truly. I boiled water in a huge pot, switched off the flame, added 18 cups of raw rice into it and covered it with a lid. Ah there! That ought to speed up the soaking process. Off we went to the store to buy huge bags of potatoes and onions for the masala filling. At the back of my mind, I could not help feeling pleased and proud of myself. ‘Next time,’ I said to myself ‘when I talk to amma, I have give her this handy tip!’.

2 hours later. My roomies had their hands full preparing the accompaniments and I opened the lid to see how well the rice was soaked. Horror of horrors! Half cooked rice had filled up to the brim, looking for space to grow even more! Now what? N was quick to recover. She ran to the Indian store to get Dosa mix and saved the day. I learnt my lesson that day. I stick to what the elders and cookbooks say with traditional recipes and never try anything new when I have guests over. BTW, we managed to finish the rice over the next week and also successfully made dosais the following week.

To go with the dosais I usually make Maheshwari’s Hotel sambhar and my SIL, Priya’s Chettinadu chutney. Here’s her recipe copy pasted right out of the email she sent me:

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Onions-2 (medium sized)

Tomato-2 (if sour or 3 if not sour)

chana dal-2 teaspoons

red and green chillies taken in equal quantities according to taste

salt to taste

Take 2 teaspoons of oil and fry the chana dal to golden brown and then add the onions once the onions become transparent add the tomatoes and the chillies and fry them all till soft and done. Then cool them and add salt and grind them into a fine paste in the mixie and season with mustard seeds and curry leaves.

My friend Ranjini gave a quick and easy recipe for this chutney that I make quite often too. It has a few extra ingredients, but just as simple and delicious:

Onions – 1 medium

Tomato – 2 medium

Ginger – ½ cm piece

Chana dal – 3 tsp

Udad dal – 1 tsp

Mustard seeds – 1/ 2tsp

Turmeric – a pinch

Coriander/cilantro – 1 tbsp chopped

Mint leaves – 1 tbsp chopped (optional)

Red chillies – 1

Green chilli – 1

Heat up 2 tsp of oil and add mustard seeds, red chilli, udad and chana dal. Once the dals brown add onion and cook. Then add rest of the ingredients and cook until the tomatoes are soft and cooked. Grind everything with little water with required amount of salt. YUM!

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February 23, 2007

Hot and sour soup

A Chinese soup. Well, Indo-chinese to be precise. Chinese was the first international cuisine to crop up in India with the ever famous hakka-noodles, manchurians and chow-meins. They had the same chinese names, but the flavour was suited to the typical Indian tongue – hot and spicy. I have, till date not visited a chinese restaurant in the USA. The reason – within the first few days of my arrival, I was enlightened by some of my fellow Indian-students who got here before me, on various food issues for a vegetarian in the USA.

First of, Chili is not chilli but beef. Always notice the number of ‘L’s in the word. (The restaurant ‘chilis’ caught my attention soon after I arrived and was dissapointed to find out what the word actually meant. The red chilli logo was decieving too. I have never visited chilis either.) Pepperoni toppings on pizza can very well be misunderstood for tomatoes. Hot dog is not actually dog meat. Chinese is not the Chinese we get in India – very very bland here. Thai food is closer to IndoChinese food than Chinese.

Based on the vital advices of my seniors, I drew lines on where to eat and where not to. I have now realized that the Chinese we get in the US is lot more authentic than what we get back home. In fact Indo-chinese is an entirely different cuisine. I have seen menu cards at Chinese restaurants and a lot of dishes look and sound delicious and the best part of all is that, they carry a number of vegetarian items too. Who cares if it is bland? I can always add an extra splash of hot sauce to my order. So, once I convince my husband, we will be heading out to a good chinese restaurant soon.

Until then, I shall seek solace in the taste I believed to be Chinese. This recipe for hot and sour soup is adapted from the my new recipe book – Tarla Dalal’s Chinese recipes. (BTW did you know she has her own blog now?) As always, I checked the list of ingredients and put in my own measurements with a few additons and subtractions:

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Shredded carrots and cabbage – 2 cups

Spring onions – 10-12 stems

Soya sauce – 1 tbsp

Balsamic vineger – 2 tsp

Cornflour – 1 1/2 tbsp

Grated ginger – 1 tsp

red chilli flakes – 1 tsp (adjust according to taste)

oil – 1 1/2 tsp

sugar – 1/2 tsp

salt to taste

pepper to taste

Ajinomoto (optional) – a pinch

Thai peanut sauce – 1 tsp

Mix the cornflour with a little water. Switch your stove to the maximum heat level and let your pan heat up till it is scotching hot. Add the oil and immediately the veggies. Saute for a minute and add the red chilli flakes, ginger, sugar, salt and the ajinomoto. Add 2 cups of water and reduce your flame to medium heat. Add the soya sauce and the cornflour. My secret ingredient – Thai peanut sauce. Just a tsp to soften the flavor of the soya sauce. Taste for salt and heat and add pepper accordingly. Let this simmer for a couple minutes and you are ready to serve it.

 

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