Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Appeasing the kid in your husband, and you.

If you're one of those couples, where you say "veggies", and he thinks "potatoes"; you say "protein" and he thinks "cheese"; you say "fiber" and he thinks "pizza", then this recipe would make both of you happy. Well..there aren't any potatoes here, but still..it has the flavor profile that most veggie-haters can bare. And admit it, some days, when the summer veggies are still around, but it's a cold rainy day in fall, you want some ooey-gooey cheesy - ricey stuff too!

(Inspired by a Sanjeev Kapoor Recipe)

Here's what I did:

Took two big peppers - one green and one red and slit it into half cross-wise. Remove the seeds and ribs (can keep the stems if you like). Lightly salt and rub with a little bit of olive oil and set aside for about 10 minutes. In the mean time, finely chop one small white onion, one clove of garlic, a small green pepper (I had a good one from the farm), and finely dice one carrot. Heat some olive oil in a cast iron skillet, add the carrots, garlic, onion and peppers and saute for about a minute. Add abt a tea spoon on pav-bhaji masala (Yes, you can completely change the flavors here...but trust me this really works). Make sure you don't use too much masala, this is not pav bhaji, you only want a hint of these spices. saute a few more seconds and then add a small can of tomato sauce. Add salt. Let it cook for a minute or two. Now add about a cup of leftover rice (it must be around half a cup of basmati). Mix and turn off the flame. Now add cheese. I would recommend cheddar, but mine had gone bad (oops), so I ended up using mozzerella and (gasp!) a few slices of american cheese slices. This is not the time to use the good stuff. I had a couple of other "good" cheeses in the fridge. This was really not the time to use those. Now, drain off any water from the peppers, and stuff them with this ooey-gooey cheesy rice. Sprinkle some chopped scallions and more mozerella on top. Now comes the interesting part. After filling the four pepper halves, I had some rice left over. So, in the spirit of one-pot meal, and taking the risk of burning the rice, this is what I did. I spread the remaining rice in the pan evenly, made four holes, and nestled the peppers in them, drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil around the edges and bake in a 400 degrees oven for about 35-40 minutes, till everything is warm, and melty and yummy. Now cross your fingers he's not going to find anything to complain about this one!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Question: What's common between Sichuan and Satara?

Answer: Oil, garlic, chilli, peanuts, sesame seeds, scallions and cilantro.

Both the regions have figured out the magic of this combination...almost identically...and it's some combination. Caution - this can be extremely addictive.A restaurant near my home, called Sichuan Gourmet makes these absolutely addictive cold noodles. Here's my attempt to re-create them:

Boil thin noodles (the ones they use are closer to angel hair pasta), I ended up using rice noodles, since that's what I had around. Cool the noodles in cold water and set aside. Roast peanuts lightly and crush coarsely. Also roast sesame seeds and crush very coarsely. Coarsely crush garlic. Heat some vegetable oil and add the garlic on medium heat and let it cook. When it's cooked for a bit, add a pinch of red chilli flakes and cook some more (do not brown). Now, add a paste made with spicy chilli powder (like cayenne) + paprika + water into the garlic oil, and then turn off the heat. Let the oil cool down slightly. Add some salt to this mixture. Slice a couple of scallions and chop cilantro. To assemble: lay down the cold noodles, sprinkle crushed peanuts, sesame seeds and scallion whites; drizzle garlic oil; and garnish with scallion greens and cilantro. May also add sprouts. If you prefer, mix before eating, and enjoy the addictive stuff. I can also most imagine two women, sitting in dark kitchens in two remote villages; one in Sichuan and another around Satara; almost simultaneously coming up with this magical combination. The woman in Sichuan topping some leftover noodles, and the one in Satara topping some leftover rice. Talk about parallel innovation!

Update: A colleague from work, who is also fond of this dish observed there's also some soy sauce and ginger. I think the ginger is fairly understated, but there is definitely a little bit of soy, not the amount you find in regular Chinese recipes...but more like a dash. Obviously, that's the Sichuan touch!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A sure cure for homesickness

You really can't go wrong with this if you're seriously homesick. But I didn't say this was an easy cure. It takes time and patience...but as you go through the process, you re-live the moments spent in the distant past and you remember every utensil in your mother's kitchen used for making this - the big iron Peni (Kadai), The stainless steel Kathrot (Paraat) and the charni (sieve). You struggle to find the right substitute utensils and hope the ingredients sort of taste the same. They don't. But it's still worth the try.

Churma Laddoo.

Take some (about 2 cups) of coarse whole wheat flour (for Laddoo). This is not Sooji. It's not the atta for Roti. It is also not Lapsi. It will be marked as Laddoo flour. Add about 3/4 cups of ghee and rub into the flour. Basically, if you hold the flour, it should almost form balls. This is called "Muthi Padtu Mon". Now add whole milk to form a very soft dough. Remember, the coarse flour is going to absorb a lot of Milk, so keep this really soft. Now splash some more milk on the dough, cover and keep aside for at least an hour or two. The dough will absorb a lot of milk. Knead gently and add more milk to make a soft smooth dough if needed. Now form balls the size of a lime. Turn int into an oval shape and press into your fist to make impressions of fingers in it. This is the traditional muthiya shape (Muthi = fist). This shape ensures that the muthiays cook evenly and you get a lot of brown surface. The actual shape doesn't matter, since it's all going to get ground up. Now heat half a kadai of ghee. The trick to frying this muthiya is to over-over-crowd the pot. I know that's not normal. But this recipe is not normal. The key is to keep the heat on medium, but you don't want to fry them quickly, since they won't cook from inside. You want to sort of steam them in ghee too. So, you arrange the muthiyas in the ghee in a criss-cross fashion. You want some space for the steam to escape, but you do want to cover one layer of muthiyas with another. Then, as the ones on the bottom get brown, flip the ones from top to the bottom, and so on, untill all the muthiyas get golden brown from all sides. This takes time, but you want to make sure they are cooked right, and if you cook them at the right temperature, they won't absorb too much ghee. After draining them, quickly break them into smaller pieces. Now, while they're still warm, add them to a food processor, and pulse. If you wait till they get cold, they will be harder to grind. now, using a stainless steel sieve will big holes (Charni), sieve the ground up muthiya. What you get is churma. Keep aside the pieces that remain on the sieve, to throw back in the food processor with the next batch. Continue till all the muthiyas are done. Keep regrinding and sieving the churma mixture till it's all done. This takes time. I told you this recipe calls for a lot of patience. Now set aside the churma.

Grate about 1/2 a cup of dry coconut. Roast it in a dry kadai on a low heat till golden grown and add to the churma. Also roast about 1/2 a cup of sesame seeds and add to the churma. Add ground cardamom and grated nutmeg to the churma and mix everything gently. The churma mixture is ready now. Now come the really tricky part. Heat some ghee (about two teaspoons) and gud (jaggery) in a kadai on gentle heat. The proportion of gud is really tricky. You roughly want the slightly less volume of gud than the churma. Once all the gud is melted well, switch off the flame and mix the gud and churma. If the kadai is big, you can do it in the kadai. The longer this mixture stays warm, the easier it will be to form laddoos, but if not, just add the gud to your churma mixture. You want everything to be wet, but not too wet. If you're not sure,  do this in batches, and keep some churma mixture on the side to add as needed. Now apply a bit of ghee to your palms and start forming the laddoos. Press the mixture in your hands and keep pressing, till a ball is formed. set on a plate to cool. The laddoos must be formed while the mixture is hot. It can be re-heated to form the laddoos if needed. However, you don't have to wait till they cool to try one.