What’s cooking today?

Varan.jpgThe weather has been really hot these days and with the temperature rising by the hour all I can think is of simple food and lots of cold water to drink.

As usual Sarita my cook came and asked me in the morning what would I like to eat for lunch and I thought what could be better than the humble Varan Bhaat (dal and rice) for lunch today.

So basically Varan is a dal made by simply boiling Toor dal (pigeon peas) along with some turmeric powder and asafetida, the cooked dal is mashed, some cumin seed powder, jaggery and salt is added and then the dal is further boiled till it’s nice and thick. This humble varan tastes best when eaten along with hot steamed ambe mohar rice (a variety of rice that grows in Maharashtra which literally means mango blossom as it has a strong aroma reminiscent of mango blossoms) and a dollop of home made tup (ghee)

So the varan is a vegan preparation which is a typically from the Maharashtrian or Goan cuisine which is served on all occasions.

In most Maharashtrian homes varan, bhaat is served as the first course followed by chapatti and vegetables.

A varan, bhaat, tup and limbu (lemon) is a complete meal by itself. Proteins from the dal, the carbs from the rice, fat from ghee and vitamin C from the lemon makes it a complete meal.

Most Maharashtrians even today have this at breakfast. I would always find it very unusual till I realized we also have Idli, sambar and chutney for breakfast using the same ingredients.

Long ago I had heard a story of a women who on her death bed told her sister in law that after she dies her son should be fed nothing more than varan, bhaat twice in a day as she was aware of the sister in law ill treating the son after her death. The mean aunt was more than happy to fed the mother less soul remains of varan, bhaat along with some ghee and lemon wedge. The boy in turn grew up to be healthy and strong, as his aunt was not aware of the goodness of this simple meal, unlike the mother.

So today its Varan, bhaat, tup and limbu for me!

 

 

CLITTER CLATTER OF PETER’S PANS AND POTS

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You are hungry and are sitting at the dinning table and a very hot earthern pot appears. The lid is removed and the steam rushes out. The room is filled with a mouth watering aroma.

The serving spoon showcase the tender meat and vegetables sitting in the still bubbling sauce

Isn’t that satisfying……

When I was a child Aai (my mother) would very often cook in one clay pot of hers that she had inherited from her mother.

Her favorite was the stew. She would simply dunk all the ingredients in her pot and cook them on a simmering flame for a few hours and then would serve us a delicious meal of stew and appams.

Just after I got married and I was in that phase to impress my new family with my culinary skills, I thought Aai’s recipe of stew would be just the perfect thing.

I quickly got down to making the stew. Followed the recipe to the “t”.

Once it was done and I took a spoonful of it to taste the aroma was just not the same. There was something missing after I tasted it.

Well the stew was very well appreciated and I gave a huge sigh of relief. But I was not satisfied.

Discussion time with mom was a must the next morning. Where she convinced me that cooking in the clay pot would make all the difference.

Till then I had never felt the need to ask her the reason for doing so but the person that she is explanation is a must. She informed me that a clay pot is porous so cooking in it on a slow flame allows the heat and moisture to circulate evenly and the meats and veggies to cook in their own juices and so the flavors and aroma gets trapped too.

Clay is alkaline so it will interact with the acidity in the food and neutralize the pH balance. Something that is naturally very acidic like a tomato sauce will take on some natural sweetness when cooked in a clay pot

She also suggested that the clay pots could be used as serving bowls, which would be absolutely authentic and stunning.

The following weekend she planned an outing to Kumbhar Wada and she gifted me a clay pot. Greedy that I am when it comes to, food, crockery and cutlery I demanded more from her.

After a few days I surprised my family cooking the same recipe of stew again and the difference was tasted by all.

Mission accomplished!!!!

But I never stopped at the stew, tried many more recipes in my very own clay pot of which the recipes I must share with you. I’m sure you will enjoy cooking them and relish them too

IMPORTANT NOTE:

This needs to be done one time before 1stuse

Rinse the pot / pan thoroughly in water and let it sit in water for 10 minutes

Take 3 tbsp of rice or wheat flour and add I cup of water and make a paste. Add 1 tbsp cooking oil and a pinch of turmeric. Fill the pot with water and add this paste and cook for 7 minutes on a low flame. Then cook with the lid on till it thickens to a broth. Remove from fire and keep it over night. Next morning throw away the broth rinse the pot and VOILA!! Its ready to be used.

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Masali ambat (fish curry)

INGREDIENTS:

7-8 pieces of Rawas or surmai or pomfret

1 medium onion finely chopped

1” ginger finely chopped

½ fresh coconut grated

1 tbsp dry coriander seeds

10-12 dry bedgi red chillies

¾ tsp haldi powder

5-6 kokums

1 tbsp coconut oil

Salt to taste

METHOD:

  1. Wash and clean the fish
  2. Grind the coconut, coriander seeds, haldi powder and the chillies to a fine paste adding 1 cup of water.
  • Heat a deep bottom mud pot and add coconut oil. When the aroma of the coconut oil fills the air add the onion and the ginger and sauté till the onion is light pink and soft.
  1. Then add the ground coconut masala, 2 cups of water to make the gravy, add the salt and kokum and bring to a boil.
  2. After you boil the gravy check the salt, spice and the sour taste, once you adjust these flavors to your liking, add the fish and let it cook on slow flame for 10 min or till the fish is done.
  3. Always adjust the flavor of the curry before you add the fish as it becomes difficult to correct the flavor after the fish is added as the fish meat is delicate and the pieces might break.
  • This delicious reddish orange curry can be served to 4 people.

VERY IMPORTANT TIP: Please do not stir the curry once the fish has been added. The pieces of fish will break.

 

FROM GODS OWN COUNTRY

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We had been to Thekkady Kerala for a holiday in 2004. The drive from Cochin to Thekkady was spectacular. The winding roads through the tea plantations, the cold breeze, I couldn’t believe I was in Gods country itself.

Curling around a misty ridge 2000 feet high in the Periyar vastness, we found “Spice Village” the hotel we were booked in. The hotel was amidst spice plantations with large thatched roof cottages made of elephant grass giving it a total village feel.

The cottage had bare stone floors with coir mats placed at each door. Natural material was used to make the cottage, local woodcraft was placed at different corners of the room. Our room has a huge garden attached to it with benches at a corner.

After we had reached in the afternoon and a lovely simple meal of Kerala parotha and stew we retired to our room for a snooze, tired after the long journey.

In the evening as soon as we woke up a steward knocked at our door. He had come with our tea and biscuits and he had placed the tray carefully on the table in the garden. T

The sun was about to set and the air was cold. Yug was running around the garden having a good time breathing the fresh air to his hearts content.

The hot tea gave us a lot of warmth. There were beautiful flowers blooming all around the periphery of the garden giving out their fragrances. The corner covered densely with tiny white flowers looked like thousands of stars in our garden.  I stood next to them for a very long time in a trance.

After the tea we geared up for the cold and set out for a walk in the old quaint town. The town was woven with tiny streets and small local shops selling spices locally grown. I bought loads of spices, tea and coffee as gifts for everyone back home.

We didn’t realize till how late we were wandering on the streets till Yug complained he was hungry. We were a bit far away from the Hotel and so we decided to eat at a local eatery close by that was recommended by one of the spice vendors.

The eatery was a large room with a cement slurry flooring, white washed walls and a thatched roof. There were benches with tables placed in a line with the owner sitting at the entrance counting his kitty

A huge dark man escorted us to our table. There was a steel jar full of water placed in front of us and as soon as we sat banana leaves were laid for us. He then muttered a list of dishes that were there on the menu like an express train and then left us alone to decide

The food we ordered was ……..uuuum wait ! let me share the recipes itself with you

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CHEMEEN BIRYANI

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE RICE

5 cups of long grain or basmati rice

5 cups of water

10 cloves

4 pods of green cardamom

1” cinnamon

4 bay leaves

2 large onions finely sliced

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt to taste

1 tbsp ghee

FOR THE MARINATION

1 kg prawns, shelled, deveined and washed

2 tbsp chilli powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tbsp coriander seed powder

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt to taste

1 tbsp ghee

Oil for frying

FOR THE GRAVY

5 medium onions sliced

10 spicy green chillies

2” ginger

10 pods of garlic

1 tsp chilli powder

1 tbsp coriander seed powder

½ tsp turmeric powder

¼ cup mint leaves chopped

½ cup coriander leaves chopped

4 tbsp ghee

BIRYANI MASALA GROUND TO A FINE POWDER

1” cinnamon

8 pods of green cardamom

2 pods of black cardamom

10 cloves

2 tsp caraway seeds

2 tsp fennel seed

2 bay leaves

2 star anise

½ tsp nutmeg

2 mace

FOR GARNISHING

1 cup fried onions

Handful of coriander leaves finely chopped

Handful of mint leaves finely chopped

10 strands of saffron

¼ cup warm milk

METHOD:

  1. Soak the rice for 30 minutes and drain
  2. Heat the ghee and add the sliced onions and all the spices, sauté for a few minutes and then add the drained rice and sauté till the rice combines well with the spices
  • Heat 10 cups of water and add it to the rice. Add salt lemon juice and cover and cook till the rice is cooked and separate
  1. Remove the excess water
  2. For the prawns combine the ingredients for the marinade and marinate the prawns for 30 minutes in the refrigerator
  3. Make a paste of the ginger, garlic and the green chillies
  • Heat the oil and shallow fry the prawns drain off the excess oil and keep it aside
  • In the same oil fry the onions till they turn slightly golden, then add the ginger garlic and green chilli paste and sauté
  1. Add the chopped coriander and mint leaves and combine well
  2. Add the biryani masala, turmeric powder, chilli powder, salt and sauté till the raw smell goes off
  3. Add the fried prawns and mix well
  • If the gravy is too dry add some water to it
  • Cover and cook on a low flame for 5 minutes till the oil separates
  • Mix the saffron in the warm milk and keep aside
  1. To assemble the biryani put a layer of the prawns, then a layer of rice, sprinkle some biryani masala, mint and coriander leaves and fried onions.
  • Make another layer similarly and then pour the ghee, milk and cover and cook it on a dum on a low flame for 15-20 minutes and serve with a cold salad