SIMPLY BEING | SIMPLE BEING

Tag: South Indian (page 1 of 2)

A Steaming Bowl of Rasam

A steaming bowl of tomato-n-pepper rasam hits the spot on a cold winter day. It opens the sinuses, clears the nasal passage and throat, fires up the taste buds and creates a feeling of bonhomie that is so vital on a blustery and grey day in January. And my Mom’s recipe… A-ha, it is THE BEST. It is sweet and tangy, spicy (or mild) and piquant, verdant and attractive. Are you sold yet? No? Well, take a look.

Mmmm...Rasam!

Mmmm…Rasam!

Here is the recipe.

Ingredients
1/4 cup toor dal
1 large tomato, chopped into chunks
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon rasam powder (I use a local brand Madurai Foods. You can find many brands at your local Indian store)
freshly ground black pepper
Jaggery (to taste)
salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ghee (or less, if you prefer)

Method

  • Wash the dal, cleaning it of dust, stones, etc. Place in a pressure cooker vessel with 1/2 cup of water.
  • In another pressure cooker vessel, place chopped tomatoes, turmeric, rasam powder, pepper, jaggery, salt, 1/4 teaspoon ghee and 1/2 cup water.
  • Place both vessels in the pressure cooker. Cook for two whistles.
  • Take out the vessel with the dal. Mash well so as to get a smooth liquid consistency. Pour into a cooking utensil.
  • Add the tomato mixture to the mashed dal. Stir.
  • Add a couple of cups of water. Bring to a boil.
  • In a little pan, warm 1/4 teaspoon of ghee. Add black mustard seeds. When the seeds begin spluttering, add cumin seeds. Wait until the cumin turns red-brown. Turn off the heat. Add the mix to the rasam.
  • Check for salt.
  • Finish with a squeeze of lime. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
  • Top with a little (or large) dollop of ghee if you like.

Rasam can be enjoyed as a soup by itself or eaten with steaming white/brown rice. No matter what your choice, belly-warming deliciousness, a runny nose and a feeling of ‘all is well with the world’ are guaranteed!

Food, Rituals, and Kale and Coconut Dal

Rituals make our food more flavorful (NY Times)

Rituals make our life flavorful. They add detail to our mundane existence, making it extra-special. Food and the act of eating benefit greatly from little rituals. In traditional Indian homes, these rituals can run into long minutes (even hours!). They have their own significance and they add sacredness to an act that we undertake three times a day, every day of our life (yes, I realize that I am immeasurably blessed to be able to state that fact so blandly).

At my home, my parents were fairly casual about these rituals, so I didn’t grow up with many of them. However, I have incorporated a few into my daily meal routine. For instance, I chant the following verses before I begin a meal.

brahmArpaNaM brahma haviH brahmAgnau brahmaNA hutam ।
brahmaiva tena gantavyaM brahmakarmasamAdhinA ।।

(The act of offering is Brahman. The offering itself is Brahman. The offering is done by Brahman in the sacred fire that is Brahman. He alone attains Brahman who, in all actions, is fully absorbed in Brahman.)

annadAta pAkakartA taThA bHoktA sukhI bhava, sukhI bhava, sukhi bhava|

(The giver of food, the cook and the one who consumes it… may you be happy, may you be happy, may you be happy!)

Meal combinations don’t exactly constitute rituals, I know, but they gave a certain predictability to our kiddie days. Most often, Sunday lunches used to feature steaming white rice, tangy tomato rasam spiced with tamarind, fresh green cilantro, cumin and mustard seeds and sweetened with jaggery, leafy amaranth dal ground with coconut and cumin, a vegetable dish of green beans and suran (Elephant Food yam in English – who knew!).

I don’t have access to amaranth leaves, so I used Mummy’s recipe to recreate the dish using kale instead. Here is my take on a leafy dal and coconut concoction that made my childhood Sundays perfect in every way possible.

Ingredients
4-5 stalks of dark green lacinato kale, chopped
1/2 cup toor dal
1/2 cup coconut (fresh or frozen)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 green chilli
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon urad dal
1-2 dried red chillies
1 teaspoon oil (for tadka)

Method

  • Cook toor dal in the pressure cooker for two whistles until soft. Turn off the heat
  • Blend the coconut and cumin seeds into a smooth paste, adding adequate water to gain the right consistency.
  • Open the pressure cooker lid, drop in the chopped greens, turmeric and green chilli. Add a cup or so of water, turn the heat on and let the mixture cook. Stir intermittently. You can keep the cooker covered so as to hasten the cooking time.
  • Add salt to taste.
  • When the kale is cooked (tear off a little piece and check the taste and color), turn off the heat.
  • Add the coconut-cumin paste. Mix well.
  • Warm the oil for tadka. Add mustard seeds. As they begin spluttering, add red chillies and urad dal. As soon as the urad dal turns brown-red in color, turn off the heat. Add the mix to the kale-coconut dal. Stir well.
Kale-Coconut Dal

Kale-Coconut Dal

Notes

This is a simple yet hearty dal that ranks high on taste, nutrition and flavor. If your palate appreciates heat, go ahead and increase the number of red chillies in the preparation.

Fresher the kale, better it will be in terms of taste and texture. I have noticed that kale turns drier and tougher as it sits.

My preferred way of cooking dals, beans and legumes is in a pressure cooker. I add boiling water to the washed dal (2:1 proportion of water to dal), shut the pressure cooker with its lid, turn on the heat. As the steam begins to rise out of the top, I cap the whistle on. When the first whistle blows, I reduce the heat. Then I wait for another whistle. Right after the second whistle, I turn off the heat. In case of beans or legumes that are harder, I might wait for additional 2-3 whistles. This method is followed by my mother as well. I have seen that it results in soft and well-cooked dals.

Serve a bowl of this dal with steaming brown (or white rice), a smidgen of ginger pickle on the side and tuck in.

Familiar Flavors at Cardamom Hill

Oh Cardamom Hill! So long since I have been meaning to walk in through your glass doors, make myself comfortable, order the Vegetarian Thali and tuck in… it finally happened last week.

Chef Asha Gomez’s latest offering, Cardamom Hill, situated in Atlanta, has been creating waves all around town and beyond. The fried chicken appears to be a hot favorite with locals, food critics and everyone else. The lunch menu changes daily and is updated on the restaurant’s Tumblr site. It generally features a couple of appetizers, a choice of vegetarian and non-vegetarian thali, dessert.

I walked in that afternoon and was pleasantly surprised to find a space so warm and elegant that one tends NOT to expect when it comes to Indian restaurants. Sorry to sound so judgmental but I strongly think that Indian restaurants lack a lot in terms of decor and service. Stringing together a bunch of colorful scarves, scattering maroon cushions all over, hanging Indian paintings on the wall – all these are but poor representations of Indian decor. It takes an artistic interior designer to truly understand the elements of Indian-themed decor and weave them into the restaurant’s ethos. Well, the rant above does not apply to Cardamom Hill. Take a look!

Interiors, Cardamom Hill

Dark coffee brown wooden tables, comfortable stuffed chairs, wooden floors, traditional (not overly so!) carvings serving as wall hangings… Very classy, understated and elegant. The decor says ‘Indian,’ nay almost whispers it into your ears unlike many other restaurants that shout ‘INDIAN!’ with their colorful pillows, Indian paintings serving as wall art, Bollywood music streaming through the speakers, etc.

I was determined to sample everything I could on the menu. So I asked for a plate of Bhajia, described as sweet potato and onion fritters served with tamarind sauce, priced at $7.

Bhajia – Sweet Potato and Onion Fritters

Very delicious. Spiced perfectly, not too garlicky or spicy, the texture was soft on the inside and crisp on the outside, fried to perfection… and it tasted so authentic! Alongside came a bowl of tamarind dipping sauce and this one didn’t come out of a bottle, I am sure. It tasted fresh and mild. A little salad of strawberries, paper-thin radish slices, cubed pineapple and herbs with a light cardamom-oil dressing was also served. A nice touch, I thought. The Bhajias came four a plate. I saved two to take home so P could sample them and give me his expert opinion.

Next up came the Vegetarian Thali. Priced at $13, it is a nice big plate of food that can easily suffice for two people, especially if you opt to share the Bhajias beforehand.

Vegetarian Thali at Cardamom Hill

The Thali contained,
Semolina upma with vegetables
Roasted Snake gourd and corn with cumin and chilli flakes
Red cabbage and persimmon slaw
Kootu (spinach and lentils simmered in Kerala spices)

Those are the listings from the restaurant’s Tumblr site. I wanted to avoid wheat, so I asked for rice instead of the upma. Alas, the server said that he had no rice that day. No rice at a Kerala cuisine restaurant? How odd. Well, so I had to get the upma. It was very well-cooked. Upma is a breeze to make, really. It is a common breakfast snack and each region in India probably has its own version of upma. Some people add turmeric while some others don’t, some folks will throw in loads of roasted peanuts and curry leaves while some others garnish with chopped cilantro. Tomato and shredded carrots may make an appearance. And so it goes. Semolina’s texture is not unlike that of couscous; it may very well be couscous by another name. The version at Cardamom Hill was mildly spiced, a good foil to the vegetables and kootu.

I have eaten snake gourd cooked with shredded coconut, mustard seeds, curry leaves. With corn? Never. It is a new twist on a familiar preparation. I can’t say that I liked it or disliked it. I wish the dish wasn’t bursting with corn, it felt a tad too much. The flavors were oh-so familiar, even if they were a shade milder than what a typical Kerala dish would feature.

Red cabbage and persimmon slaw is by no means a traditional Kerala dish! I doubt persimmon even grows in Kerala. That being said, it is a nice little side dish that added a tangy punch and freshness to the meal. The slaw was spiced with lemon juice, chopped cilantro and salt.

I always thought that kootu referred to a coconut gravy curry and so, the spinach kootu at Cardamom Hill threw me off. This version was essentially a lentil dish (chana dal, I think) with spinach leaves and a tempering of mustard, turmeric and curry leaves. Maybe this is how kootu is prepared in the Malabar region (that’s where the chef Asha Gomez hails from). It was lightly flavored, perfect in quantity. Chana dal can get rather heavy, so the little bowl was the perfect size.

Not a bad spread at all… as I said, the flavors were milder, the combinations were interesting and unique, the service was lovely, great interiors. And I skipped dessert this time, so a second visit with the husband is definitely in order!

Cardamom Hill
1700 Northside Dr
Atlanta GA 30318

www.cardamomhill.net
404-549-7012

Mom’s Multigrain Adai Pancakes

Ada Dosa (also known as Adai in Tamil Nadu) is essentially a multigrain pancake containing white rice, urad dal, chana dal and toor dal combined with dried red chillies, asafoetida and curry leaves. A deliciously healthy and savory snack that is hearty enough to be served at breakfast, Ada Dosa goes famously well with your choice of side. Tangy lime pickle? Yes. Spicy mango relish? Oh yes. Sweet peach jam? Absolutely. Mint-cilantro-coconut chutney? Lovely! Good old tomato ketchup? Nice. Or my personal favorite, a good chunk of jaggery. Oh, a blob of salted butter hits the spot too!

The rice and dals are soaked in water for a few hours beforehand. This softens them and facilitates the grinding process. Red chillies are also soaked along with the dal-rice mixture.

Soaked Dal-Rice-Chillies

I know that looks like a LOT of red chillies (Mummy just threw them in there) but be assured, I took most of them out… 🙂

I asked Mom about the proportions she used for the dals and rice. Now she is an experienced home cook, intuitive and spontaneous (exasperatingly random at times!) in her approach to cooking (and life, in a larger context). Naturally, she didn’t recall the quantities she used. But she thought a little and told me – 1 cup white rice (uncooked), 1 cup combined of toor dal, chana dal, urad dal.

After soaking the rice-dals-chillies for a few hours, I ground them all up in my good old mixer/grinder. Such a sturdy appliance this is… I could’t recommend it enough. Makes me bless the day P and I decided to buy it from the little appliance store in Bombay and lug it back to Atlanta.

Good old Mixer/Grinder

You can see the little steel bowl (top) with red chillies. Those are the ones I took out. Pretty much, most of them, that is… 🙂

This is a naturally coarse batter but make sure that you grind it as fine as your mixer/grinder allows. Add sufficient water so the batter is light and flowing, and of a spreadable consistency but not excessively liquid-ey or watery.

Almost done!

Add the curry leaves towards the end. Add asafoetida and salt to taste.

Bring a cast iron skillet (or a non-stick pan) to heat, pour a ladleful of the batter, spread thinly to make a medium-sized pancake. Add a teaspoon (or less) of oil over the pancake and around it. When the edges begin to brown, use a spatula to flip the pancake over. Let it cook on the other side. When done, take it off the skillet. You can make it thin and crispy (use less batter and spread wide and thin) or thick and chunky.

Serve piping hot with your favorite side of pickle, relish, ketchup… anything!

Ada Dosa and Sweet Mango Relish