Saturday, March 01, 2014

Cauliflower Cutlets/Patties with Roasted Red Pepper Dip

Dear Foodies,

We are finally seeing some much needed rains here this weekend. Its been overcast for the last few days with frequent bursts of rain and glimpses of pretty rainbows throughout the day. Since we hardly see a string of dull days like this its a nice time to indulge in snacks and piping hot chai/coffee and get cozy at home. I love cutlets/tikkis/patties whatever you choose to call them and this was a perfect time to try a few variations.

Cauliflower is a summer/fall season vegetable yet I still spot them in a myriad colors (white, yellow, purple!) and their adventurous friends - romanesco and brocoflower at the farmers market. Tempted by the offerings I pick a different color each time and experiment with new ways of preparing them instead of my go to method. I used a whole head of yellow cauliflower in this recipe but you could just as well swap any other veggie you have on hand. I made a variation of this by coarsely blending soaked garbanzo beans, coriander stalks and leaves, green chillies and added mashed boiled potatoes along with the spices mentioned in the recipe below.

The best part of a cutlet is the crispy crust and semolina/rava is the magic ingredient here. I find using chickpea flour or bread crumbs as a binder makes cutlets dense and takes away from the flavor of the veggies. Both those are overcome by using rava and as a bonus it gives them the awesome crispy texture we crave. If you are impatient like me in the kitchen this also lets you get away with out waiting for all the water to drain from steaming veggies.

No matter how good your veggie mix its a sturdy iron skillet that seals the deal in getting the texture right and using less oil. If you don't have one then get one right away! A heavy bottom stainless steel skillet might also work here but not a non-stick pan since you'll be left with sloppy cutlets. Not good.

I used my skillet to char mini red peppers under the broiler for the pepper dip. This dip is based on the recipe for Spanish romesco sauce but with the number of substitutions I made I think I would offend folks if I called it that! :) The recipe calls for stale bread and I only had stale pita bread on hand so use whatever you have available.

Cauliflower Cutlets/Patties
Prep time: 15-20 mins
Cook time: 20 mins
Servings: makes 6-8  4"patties
  • 1 head of Cauliflower
  • 2 Scallions, chopped
  • 1 tsp - Chaat masala
  • 1/2 tsp - Coriander and Cumin powder, each
  • 1 tsp - Red chilli powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1/8 tsp - Turmeric powder
  • 2 Tbsp - Rava/Semolina
  • 2 Tbsp - toasted Pita bread crumbs, powdered (or add more rava) 
  • 2 tsp - Lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp - Cilantro, chopped
  • 3-4 - Mint leaves, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 4-5 Tbsp - Oil
  1. Separate cauliflower into florets and reserve tender stems. Steam in microwave with a little sprinkle of water or plunge in salted, boiling water for a few minutes. With either method keep in mind that stems take a few minutes longer to cook than florets.
  2. Place skillet on medium-low heat. Drain florets and add to a mixing bowl with all other ingredients. Using a potato masher or fork gently combine and form a coarse mix. Taste test and add seasonings. 
  3. Form rough 4" round patties about 1/2" thick and place on skillet. Drizzle drops of oil around each patty and cook 2-3 mins on each side until golden brown. Serve immediately as is with a dip and as a burger patty.
Note: I made a variation of this by coarsely blending soaked garbanzo beans, coriander stalks and leaves, green chillies and mashed boiled potatoes along with similar spices. Quick pickled red onions made by soaking sliced onions in red wine vinegar for 10-15 mins makes for a zesty accompaniment.
Roasted Red Pepper Dip
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
Servings: makes ~2 cups
  • 5 mini colored peppers or 2 regular red bell peppers
  • 2 - Plum tomatoes 
  • 5 - Garlic cloves
  • 10-12 - Almonds and Walnuts, each 
  • 2 - small Pita breads, quartered (or use 2 bread slices )
  • 1-2 Tbsp - Red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp - Lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp - Coriander & Fennel powder
  • 1/2 tsp - Paprika
  • 3-4 Tbsp - Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg. Wrap garlic cloves (with skin) in foil along with a drizzle of olive oil and roast for 20 mins. Spread nuts and pita bread on a baking sheet and roast for about 10 mins.
  2. Next place halved peppers and tomatoes cut side down on a skillet, spray cooking oil and broil for 15-20 mins until outer skin appears blistered. You can do this on a open grill as well. Place roasted peppers and tomatoes in a bowl and cover tightly with cling film or lid to loosen skins. Allow to rest for a few minutes before peeling.
  3. Once cooled, squeeze roasted garlic cloves from skin into a blender jar. Add roasted peppers, tomatoes, nuts, pita bread, all other ingredients and half of the red wine vinegar and olive oil. Process until smooth adding more red wine or olive oil to taste and until you reach desired consistency.
Note: This is a great dip to use with chips, crudites, as a spread in burgers or sandwiches.
This was a wonderful combination of flavors that I turned into a light lunch on a bed of arugula greens. It'd work great as late afternoon snack or sandwiched between well toasted bread slices. Cauliflower is a hearty vegetable that takes very well to spices. I used scallions for their mild flavor and fresh herbs add a bright flavor. The combination of toasted nuts, chaat masala, fennel powder and lemon juice adds a nice savory tang to these cutlets. This aspect is only enhanced by the zesty red pepper dip. I could practically have the dip all by itself. I end up finding excuses to use it in all manner of preparations whenever I make it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Quinoa & Lentil Pilaf

Dear Foodies,

I've been bringing home big bunches of menthikura (fenugreek leaves) from my trip for Indian groceries. During the off season I get a miserly 20-25 sprigs for 2$ and now its thrice that quantity for the same price. So now I'm trying to find new recipes since the usual suspects -  andhra style pappu, aloo methi fry, methi malai paneer have been covered. For lunch last week I was looking to use quinoa instead of rice and decided to make this puloa/pilaf.

To cook quinoa by first toasting the seeds in a dry pan. This adds a nice nuttiness and also keeps them from turning into a mush if cooked a few extra minutes. As they toast the seeds begin to pop which is my cue to take them off the heat and rinse them under cold water. Based on the batch/brand that you buy you may have to rinse the seeds multiple times to get rid of the bitter outer coating. Once water runs clear I add water in the ratio of 1:1.5 and bring it to a boil. Add salt and whole spices or spice powders at this stage for extra flavor. Then set to lowest heat setting, cover and cook for 15-20 mins until all the of water is absorbed.

I had a huge bunch of methi leaves, freshly shucked peas and carrots on hand. Quinoa is a good vegetarian source of protein but I bumped it up with whole green lentils. Cook them in twice the amount of water, bring to a boil, add salt/spices and simmer for 10-15 mins until al dente i.e., they still retain a bite. Technically you could cook the lentils along with quinoa but they tend to discolor the cooking liquid and I did not want that. I was cooking a bigger batch of lentils to use later anyway so it worked out well.
Quinoa - Lentil Pilaf
Prep time - 10 mins
Cook time - 15-20 mins
Serves - 2
  • 1 cup - Quinoa, cooked; (see note above for cooking method)
  • 1/2 cup - Brown/Green lentils, cooked
  • 1 cup - Fenugreek/methi/menthikura leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup - Carrots, grated
  • 1/4 cup - Green peas
  • 1/2 tsp - Coriander powder
  • 1/4 tsp - Mustard seeds, Cumin seeds
  • 4-5 - Curry leaves
  • 2 - Green chilies, slit lengthwise
  • 1/2 tsp - Urad dal (Ivory lentils)
  • 1/8 tsp - Turmeric powder
  • 1 Tbsp - Peanuts and Cashews
  • 2 Tbsp - Olive Oil
  • salt to taste
  1. Cook quinoa and lentils separately. (See my notes above for cooking method)
  2. Heat oil in a wide saute pan on medium heat, add mustard and cumin seeds. Once the seeds begin to splutter add urad dal, peanuts and cashews and toast until reddish brown. Add turmeric, curry leaves, green chillies, methi leaves and saute for a few minutes. Grated carrots and peas go in next along with coriander powder and salt. Cover and cook the vegetables for 6-7 mins on medium-to-low heat.
  3. Add quinoa and lentils, mix thoroughly and cover again for 8-10 mins on the lowest heat setting to allow flavors to meld.

I enjoy the crunchy texture of quinoa and its perfect here with the mild bitterness from the fenugreek leaves, sweet peas, earthy lentils and occasional cashews and peanuts. I used a mandoline and not a grater to shred carrots which helps them retain their shape and stay separate when cooked. I served this with a dollop of labneh with pomegranate seeds. Yogurt would have been my go-to choice if I hadn't run out of it. Pomegranate seeds added a bit of tartness which is nice here, or a wedge of lime would do the trick too. And if you think I've focused more on the fabric than the dish itself in these photos then your not totally wrong :D I fell in love with the print and had to buy it though I have no clue what I'll use it for!

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Weekend Craft Corner || Farmers Market Tote

Dear Foodies,
I've had my sewing machine for about 3 years now and once every couple of months I bring it out of its box. I usually pick projects that get done in day, the instant gratification from these keeps me searching from more. Since I'm always on the look out for quick and easy things to make I thought I'll share my ideas here every week/month and ask for yours in return.
 I re-use paper bags from stores like Whole Foods, TJ's and Sprouts but having a pretty cloth bag to flaunt is even better. I made 3 of these totes last summer - one for my dad, my sister-in-law and myself. My dad's probably the most frequent user in our family since he has used cloth bags for our grocery shopping for as long as I can remember. So he dictated the design aspects - a sturdy bag that would stay vertical when set on its base, making it convenient to place it on the floor when filling it up with fresh produce; pockets on the outside to hold spare change, keys or a cell phone; a lining inside that's easy to clean; and a way to seal the bag, keeping its contents from spilling out.
After much searching for a style we all liked I ended up at this tutorial  - Summer Madras Tote pattern. Its a really well put together tutorial with detailed photos and instructions for a beginner like me. I used fabrics that I picked up at a yard sale last year. Outer fabric is a sturdy cotton and floral fabric for the inner lining is much lighter in weight. The inner lining can be pulled out for cleaning as its held together only at the top. I used a contrast color for the handles and to line pockets. To add loft and sturdiness I sandwiched a layer fusible interfacing between the two layers and also sowed a few velcro strips across the opening to close the bag.

What are you crafting ?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Another Harvest

Dear Foodies,

A very Happy New Year to you all! I hope you have had a great start to the year. This year seems to be a run to get done though, its already the last day of the month now! So before I break any unmade(!) resolutions  lets get going shall we. I've told you before about Harvest Crops and the great work that they do. Last year they partnered with another fabulous cause - Meals for Hunger. Together they strive to save fruit in the community from goin waste and provide for those that cannot afford it.

This past weekend about 40+ volunteers gathered to pick avocados and other citrus fruit. It was a gorgeous day to be out and we were all raring to go by 9 am on a Sunday morning. We were headed to a house with an abundance of avocados for the season. The very first time I saw an avocado tree was when driving through southern California on a road trip. I mistook them for mango trees and hurriedly stopped by the farm hoping to get hold of fresh mangoes. From them on, we drove past miles and miles of avocado farms. California is said to produce 90% of the local harvest with Southern California contributing close to 60% of that.
So its no surprise that the house we visited had 60+ trees for us to pick. There are more than 50 varieties of avocados grown here with the most popular ones being Hass and Fuerte found in the farmers markets here. I couldn't tell what variety of avocados were grown but there were definitely a few different kinds - some close to 7-8 in and others barely reaching 4 in.  I couldn't spot a single avocado for the first 10-15 mins, going from tree to tree as they blend really well with the dark green leaves and are well hidden under their shade. The blooms are a pale greenish yellow with a grassy fragrance. While moving from one tree to the other we kept thinking there wasn't much fruit to pick, but when it came time for the final harvest photo we had plenty.
Happy Birthday Ma! I know I don't say this enough - Love you! >:D<
We also picked a few pounds of oranges, limes, lemons, grape fruit and kumquats. One of the many reasons I love volunteering for this organization is getting to know the variety for fruit that grows around here. The blooms above are from an almond tree and the mild fragrance from them was truly a breath of fresh air.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Simple meals | Soba Noodle Salad

Dear Foodies,

The last few weeks our grocery shopping has been an exercise in self control, well, when is it not actually. On each trip, my dad and I come back with a couple of bags of fruit.  To get all our groceries we invariably end up going to a couple of stores in the area. And its extremely tough not getting tempted by the variety of fruits found in each. We seem to be at a perfect point in the season where summer berries are sharing the space with wonderful fall stone fruit. Mangoes and lychee's from the Asian market, plump raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and melon at the neighborhood Sprouts and ripe peaches, nectarines, plums, plouts, plumcots(!) from Tarder Joe's. It's come to point where my mother has had to intervene and place a ban on fruit buying (huh!).  But we still sneak some in cos there's just too much fruit to pass up and not enough time to enjoy all of it. is still the winner :)

We are also eating our way through the amazing produce from our trip to Suzie's farm a few weekends back. The ripe tomatoes went into a traditional South Indian pachadi/pickle (recipe soon), enchilada sauce (this too!), green tomato chutney, rasam, sandwiches, salads and many more. In fact, no matter what we cooked in the last few weeks, tomatoes and peppers found a way in. A few beets, eggplants and peppers are still hanging around and I want to give this gorgeous looking pickled slaw a try soon. But in the mean time, here is a super simple summer noodle salad. It does not need much cooking and is great at room temperature or cold. I start with soba noodles that are made from buckwheat and have a nutty flavor and a slight chewiness when cooked. Did I mention it barely takes 4 mins to cook them ? In the time it takes for the water to come to boil and cook the noodles, the veggies and dressing can be prepared. Quick, simple and flavorful.

Soba Noodle Bowl
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
  • 2 bundles (3.1oz each) - Soba noodles
  • 1/2 cup - Onions, sliced
  • 1/2 - Red pepper, sliced lengthwise
  • 10-15 - Snow peas, vein removed and sliced in half
  • 1 Tbsp - Toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tsp - Toasted Sesame oil
  • 11/2 Tbsp - Tamari sauce or Soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp - Tahini or Peanut butter or Almond butter
  • 1 Tbsp - Lime juice or Rice Vinegar
  • 1-inch knob of fresh Ginger, finely grated
  • 1 tsp - Sriracha hot sauce or 1/2 tsp - Red chilli flakes (adjust to taste)
  • 1 tsp - Honey
  • 1/3 -1/2 cup - Noodle cooking liquid 
  • 2 stalks - Scallions, green and white parts sliced
  • 1/2 cup - Cilantro, coarsely chopped 
  • 2 tsp - Sesame seeds
  1. Bring water to boil in a pot deep enough to hold the noodles.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add all dressing ingredients and whisk to combine. If the tahini or nut butters are clumpy and the choice of pots allows it - carefully place the bowl on the pot of water to gently heat and loosen the dressing. Otherwise, microwave for 15-20 seconds. Taste test and adjust quantities to suit your taste. I tend to add more lime juice and ginger.
  3. Blanch snow peas in the near boiling water for just a minute or two. Fish them out and add to the dressing bowl. Next add the noodles and cook to package instructions.
  4. Heat sesame oil in a shallow, wide pan on medium-high heat. Add onions and peppers to it and stir fry until slightly tender yet crunchy. Transfer to the dressing bowl. Toast sesame seeds in the same pan until lightly browned. They'll start jumping out of the pan at this point anyway :) Reserve for the final garnish.
  5. Once the noodles are ready, reserve 1/2 cup of water and drain the rest. Rinse noodles under cold running water and add to the dressing + veggies bowl. Toss gently to coat the noodles with the dressing, adding noodle cooking water as needed.
  6. Garnish with chopped scallions, cilantro and toasted sesame seeds.
Note: Swap in other veggies but make sure pick a few that are crunchy. You can also add crushed, roasted peanuts for garnish. I've made this recipe with all three choices - tahini, peanut and almond butter and they all tasted good.

This has become one the recipes I go to when a quick, flavor packed meal is needed. Its fresh, colorful and has lots of textures and flavors that will keep you going back for more. I've become a huge fan of the ginger-soy combo after I made this for the first time and have used it in this salad recipe too. The ingredients in the dressing are things that I have begun to stock in my pantry and I always have a few packets of soba & udon noodles from the Asian market. With the addition of a few veggies its a quick lunch or dinner in the making. Since its good at room temperature or cold, and sans garlic, its a great lunch box dish as well.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tostadas with Guacamole, Red Cabbage slaw & fresh Corn

Dear Foodies,

Have you been to a horse race ? We were there a few weekends back and surprisingly had a good time. I don't think I would go back there every weekend, but it was a good one time thing to do. I don't gamble much, I could just as well through some cash out the window and it'd be the same. But that said, we wagered a couple of dollars on a few races that day. My dad found a few websites that offered free tips for each race. Some could not have been more off the mark, the one they picked to come 1st came 6th in a 8 horse race...ughh. We ended up with happy coincidences on some picks though - I whopping $3.60 on a $2 wager...hehe. They have 8 races each evening, one every 30 mins, that gives a rookie just enough time to figure out which horse to pick and place your wager. We had a nice time and enjoyed the first 4-5 races of the day. It took us awhile to figure out what was going on but we soon caught on and knew what win, show, place stood for and even the special quinella, trifecta and exacta meant. We tried a few combinations on each race until we were tired of losing and got out. By the 7th race we were done and left before the final race for the day.  Every summer my evening drive home is disrupted by this event - the amount of traffic is crazy, taking me twice as long to get home. Now I know whats its all about but still don't get where the money comes from! Even in the midst of a recession, $458 million was wagered at the race track last year, that is nearly $13 million a day!

Instead of corn tortillas I picked up these tostadas at the store. I had never tasted them before and was intrigued by the idea of having a crunchy chip as the vessel for toppings. Part of the reason I like corn tortillas is probably the smaller size. The fillings tend to be what I like the most about taco's. I'd rather have less tortilla and more filling and these tostadas are even better because of the crunch they bring. They are light and still surprisingly sturdy enough, allowing you to pile on the toppings.

A tostada is a fried tortilla that can be loaded with goodies. Its like an open faced taco with a crunchy shell giving you more room for filings which are essentially the best part. When you need a light lunch or snack to get you through a busy summer day a tostada is your answer. With the bounty of avocado in the markets here I make guacamole very often and with a few other ingredients I can have a fun meal ready in 15 - 20 mins. If you don't find pre-made tostada's in your local stores you can lightly fry store bought corn tortilla's as shown here. But finding ready made ones would be ideal in making this a quick meal to put together.

This dish has a few of my current favorites - guacamole and red cabbage slaw. Its perfect for picnics or do ahead scenarios as you can make and store all the components ahead of time. And more importantly, it looks stunning on the plate ;-) It could also be a great addition to a 'taco party' menu. I keep the guacamole simple with lots of cilantro and lime juice. A hint of cumin and diced jalapeno round up the spices for me.

Summer Veggie Tostadas
Prep time: 20 mins
  • Tostadas
  • 1 cup - Guacamole (recipe below)
  • 1 cup - Mexican cabbage and Jicama slaw
  • 2 - Corn on the cob, roasted (oven/grill) or microwaved whole in the husk
  • 3 - Spring onions - greens only
  • Feta cheese
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • 2 - Avocados
  • 1-2 - Limes
  • 1/4 cup - Cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp - Jalapeno/Serrano, minced (adjust to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp - Onions, finely diced (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp - roasted, Cumin powder
  • Salt to taste
  1. Roast or char grill corn or microwave in the husk for 3-4 mins as I did for this recipe. Once cool to handle, slice off the kernels with a sharp knife. 
  2. For the guacamole, combine onions (if using), minced chilies, cumin powder, salt and half the lime juice in a bowl. Using the back of your spoon apply gentle pressure to crush them together. This helps to draw out the juices. Add peeled and roughly diced or scooped out avocado to the mix and toss together. I sometimes go for a smooth texture and use a fork to mash everything together or when I want a more chunky guac, I add diced avocado and fold it into the other ingredients. Add more lime juice to taste, I prefer more of it.
  3. To assemble, apply a generous smear of guacamole on the tostada, top it with a few spoons of the cabbage slaw. Add as much of the corn and cheese and complete it with a sprinkle of spring onion greens and a few drops of hot sauce(optional)

This was a super nice spin on ingredients used in these tacos. The tostada's are surprisingly sturdy and did not fall apart in my hand and neither did they turn into a soggy mess. The sharp hint of lime in the guacamole and the slaw brighten up the dish and the fresh summer corn is a burst of sweetness. I had some mild feta on hand and it turned out to be a nice addition to the tostada. This is more of a technique or idea and could be used as a perfect vehicle for all the fresh produce in summer and fall.

What's your current summer favorite go-to meal ?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Homemade | Rhinestone / Kundan Rangoli

Dear Foodies,

Padmam - Lotus muggu
I'm going to take a detour from cooking on today as I can no longer keep this new craft that my mom and I (...mainly her :) ) have been churning out from all you guys. Last month for a puja at my brother's place we were trying to come up with ideas for setting up the altar and other decorations. Since it was their new home we did not want to risk using traditional muggu (rangoli) colors and staining the floors. When looking for designs online I came across some that were made using kundan stones and that's when this got started.
Peeta muggu (to be placed under a 3" high stool - peeta)
Michael's is our go-to store for craft items and it was no different this time. We found a huge pack of assorted color acrylic rhinestones and with the 40% coupon it was a good buy for a impromptu project. Only drawback was having to sort the beads by color before we got started. But with some glue and plastic printer sheets we got started on our very first one soon.

Since then we've made many's hard to stop and we knew we were spent our afternoons ordering stones on Amazon and our evenings scouring bead stores in the area for the right shape, right shade or the perfectly sized stone :)
another Padmam with a different petal tip design
For the first few muggu's we used Graffix Ink Jet film, but later realized it's a little too thin and flimsy for such a project. We currently have these sheets from Graffix that we ordered online. They are much more sturdier but the only downside is the color. I noticed that the sheet itself had a blue tinge only after opening the package. So if you can find clear sheets of the same thickness, that would be ideal.
Flower pattern - Not the best photo but my favorite so far
Since the sheets are transparent its easy to trace the pattern on a sheet of paper and attach it to the plastic sheet using staples or paper clips. Its best to move a few inches at a time, trace the pattern with glue (we used this) and immediately place the rhinestones. Do use a good amount of glue or the stones will fall out over time when handled...found that the hard way.

We also used pearl and silver bead strings for some of the outlines. My mother figured that the best way to make them fit the pattern is to leave them stringed until they are glued in place. While the glue is still fresh, gently tug at the string and pull it out. You can then make slight adjustments but its a lot easier than gluing beads individually. Once the glue has had time to dry, trim off excess plastic sheet around the pattern. We skipped this step for now and left a lot more space so they are easy to handle and move around.

This our most recent project and the one we are most proud of, I think. We spent many evenings visiting stores and looking online for the right stones for this one but it was definitely worth it. Its still not complete. My mom's done making all the petals (below pic) and we'll have to create the final shape by using some gold string to form an outline.
Materials & Sources
  • Acrylic Rhinestones - Various colors, sizes and shapes
  • Pearl and Silver beads
  • Sources: Michaels Craft store - don't forget to look for coupons; local bead stores/outlet; The Crafts Outlet - Amazon store, eligible for prime shipping;
  • Craft Plastic Sheets - we used these Graffix sheets, but in a clear color if you can find them (and let me know where!)
  • Glue - Aleene's Clear Tacky Glue
  • a pair of tweezers really come handy when you have to move little beads around
petals to go around the above circular center pattern - 8 total
Google stone rangoli and get prepared to be awed. There is soo much great work to be inspired by. I thought I had a brilliant idea when we were trying to find an alternative to traditional color powder rangoli, but looks like its been around forever. This was the first collection that inspired me, here's another that lead to our current project; and another one. The very first muggu is the one that will be at the base of our Varalakshmi vratham kalasam this year.

Did you worked on any craft projects recently ? Please share them here!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Bajji - Vegetable Fritters

Dear Foodies,

The festive season has begun for some Hindu's with the onset of Sravana masam last Wednesday. My parents are here visiting and I get to experience firsthand again the various puja's and neivedyam that I very vividly remember from when I was home. The unmistakable aroma of ghee and cardamom from the kitchen, incense from the puja room, the melodious voice of M.S. Subbalakshmi or Sudha Ragunathan playing in the background and the whole house buzzing with energy. The entrance would have been decked with a fresh muggu (rangoli) and thoranam. Fresh flowers adorn the altar and all puja samagri cleaned and ready to go. I've tried my best to recreate these from memory in the last few years but its never the same. Having mom here has brought that all back. I've slipped naturally into my post as assistant along with my Dad.

Today is Garuda panchami, a puja performed by sisters for the well-being of their brothers. It is a special pooja in our home for both my mom and me - she has four brothers and I have one. This also signifies the start of a string of auspicious days for the season - Varalaksmi vratam is on Friday, followed soon by Avani avittam (Jandhayala pandaga/Rakhi), Janmashtami, Vinayaka Chavithi, Dasara and then Diwali.

Clockwise - peppers, green tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes
For a foodie though, all these festive occasions have one other important thing at their core - neivedyam. Each puja has its own set of customary dishes that make it special. Kozhakattai for one, kesari for another or bobatlu. But no special Andhra (/Telangana ugh) meal is complete with out bajji - fritters. Usually its thinly sliced potatoes dipped in a mildly spiced besan/chickpea batter and deep fried to puffy, golden deliciousness. Using just pantry essentials, these take no more than 15 mins, with prep time taking just as long as it takes for the oil to come to temperature. So no surprise then that these were perfect snack to offer to unexpected guests.

On Saturday, we spent all morning at Suzie's farm picking fabulous summer produce. We now have close to 10 varieties of peppers, lots of sun ripened tomatoes, beets, kale, chard, eggplant and squash. With all this fresh produce in hand we had no reason to stick to traditional potato alone. Instead we made a bajji sampler plate using sliced eggplant, padron peppers, unripe green tomatoes and potatoes. Onions are also great for bajji but since this was going to be offered as neivedyam we skipped it.

Bajji - Fritters with Potatoes, Brinjal, Green Tomatoes and Peppers 
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
  • 1 cup - Besan/Chickpea flour
  • 1/4 cup - Rice flour
  • 1/2 tsp - Ghee or 1 tsp - Curd or 1 tsp - Rava/Semolina
  • 1/8 tsp - Turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp - Red chilli powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1/8 tsp - Ajwain (whole or roasted & powdered)
  • a pinch of Hing/Asafoetida
  • Salt to taste (~1/2 tsp)
  • Water, for batter
  • Oil for deep frying
  1. Prep veggies first - Scrub potatoes clean, wash all other veggies and pat dry. Peel potatoes if needed. Slice potatoes and eggplant thinly (1/8inch) by knife or using a mandoline. Cut stem end of peppers, de-seed and slice into discs. Green tomatoes sliced a little thicker than the rest.
  2. Heat about 1 inch of oil in a wide pan over medium heat.
  3. For the batter, combine all dry ingredients first. To make the fritters crispy add either ghee, rava or curd in the amount suggested. Add water to get the batter to a thick yet pouring consistency as shown above.
  4. Once the oil is hot (starts to shimmer and a small drop of batter falls to the bottom and rises up in a few seconds) dunk a few slices in batter and move them around to coat all sides. Pick up one slice at a time, allow excess batter drop, and gently slide it into the pan of oil from the side closest to you. Add a few more slices based on size of the pan making sure not to over crowd it.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, gently move the slices around 1-2 times, gradually spooning a little oil over them. Once the bottom part looks cooked (~ 1 min) flip over and cook until both sides are golden. 
  6. Transfer to a tissue lined plate for a few minutes to absorb excess oil. Move them to a serving plate or dish. They are great warm or at room temperature. Though they hardly need any accompaniments, a little Maggi sauce or mango avakaya on the side is wonderful.
Once you have the batter ready, you can experiment with almost all veggies. The tart green tomatoes were really good and so was the eggplant with a slight bitterness. Peppers (mirapakakya bajji) and potatoes (aloo bajji) hardly need any help in selling out. Cauliflower, cucumber, squash, spinach are all very good candidates. Last week we even saw someone on a cookery show dip rava kesari balls in this batter to make a hybrid snack! I may never go that far and plan to stick to just veggies.

We are busy making arrangements for Varalakshmi Vratam now and I hope to write another post this week about ourpreparations. My mom's Kozhakattai recipe now has new photos from today.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Corn Tacos with Mexican Slaw & Poblano Dressing

Dear Foodies,

I've been waiting all year long to share this recipe here. I discovered fresh corn tortilla's and tacos last summer and they were my staple food for a good month or two. But it was way past fresh corn season by the time I got around to putting the recipe together. This year I hope its right not time so you guys can enjoy it as much as I do. Summer in SD is not until July or August, we are going through what is called June 'gloom' right now. Overcast days with 60-65F temperature hardly feels like summer. One look at the farmers market stalls though and you'll know otherwise. Just like summer and mangoes will go hand in hand for me, its fresh summer corn that I look forward to here. The kernels are so tender and juicy that they hardly need any cooking. When separating the kernels form the corn, a good portion of it ends up being a snack. I nuke them in the microwave for 2-3 minutes while still in their husks sometimes. Once cool to handle, remove the husks, slide half a lime through the kernels, sprinkle salt, chili powder and call it dinner.

This taco recipe is filled with some of my favorite components. A stunning slaw has just three main ingredients - purple/red cabbage, carrots and jicama. I started using jicama only last year after watching a Mexican food show on TV. I had always seen them next to cauliflowers at the local store here but never really paid them notice. Eaten raw, jicama is super crunchy and has a mild sweet flavor. It's rich in fiber and adds a wonderful texture to salads. I dress the salad with a sharp lime dressing with lots of cilantro and a hint of cumin and chile powder to add zing. This simple slaw is clearly greater than the sum of its parts. Its perfect for picnics or do ahead scenarios as the veggies are sturdy enough to hold up against the acidic dressing for a few hours. And more importantly, it looks stunning on the plate!

If you make nothing else from this recipe, you should at least try the poblano dressing immediately. I use poblano's instead of green bell peppers in quesadilla's or stuff them with the sauteed corn and red peppers, a little cheese and bake them for a quick dinner. Once the poblano's are grilled/broiled it takes 5 mins to make the sauce. I use thick homemade yogurt, scallions, a lot of cilantro, some lime juice and roasted cumin powder. A few recipes call for garlic but I don't like its pungent flavor in raw form and avoid it here. Throw everything in a blender jar, give it a few pulses until the sauce to smooth and creamy. And its ready to be used as a salad dressing or a condiment for burgers and sandwiches.

For these taco's, I separated the kernels from the cob and charred them in a dry pan. Seasoned them lightly with salt and pepper. The star of the dish though are the vibrant slaw and poblano chile dressing that packs a punch. I make both every few weeks and store in the fridge for a few days. I made the slaw for a event at work a few weeks back it was enjoyed by all.

Corn Tacos with Mexican Cabbage slaw and Poblano dressing
Prep time: 45mins
Cook time: 15mins
Servings: 3-4
  • Corn Tortillas
  • Roasted/Charred corn (on an open flame or kernels sauteed in a dry pan)
  • Radish sprouts or any other kind of your choice
Mexican Cabbage-Carrot-Jicama Slaw
  • 1/2  - small head of Red cabbage, thinly sliced, approx. 3 cups
  • 1/2 - Jicama, julienned, approx. 1.5 cup
  • 3 - Carrots, julienned or shredded, approx 1.5 cup
  • 1/2 cup - Cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp - Jalapeno/Serrano. minced or mexican red chile powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1 tsp - roasted, Cumin powder
  • 2-3 - Limes, juiced
  • 2 Tbsp - Olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  1. For the salad dressing, combine lime juice, olive oil, salt, chile and roasted cumin powder. Adjust seasonings to taste. I tend to use more lime juice in mine. Toss together all the veggies, cilantro and half the dressing adding more as needed. Set aside for 30 mins at room temperature or refrigerated to develop flavors.
Poblano Chile Dressing
  • 3 - Poblano chiles
  • 1 - Scallion
  • 1/2 cup - Cilantro leaves and tender stalks
  • 1.5 cups - thick plain Yogurt or (3/4 cup buttermilk + 2 Tbsp sour cream)
  • 1/2 tsp - freshly roasted Cumin powder
  • 1-2 Tbsp - Lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp - Garlic, grated (optional)
  • Salt to taste 
  1. Roast poblano chiles over a gas flame or under the broiler until charred all around. Transfer while hot to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 10mins. Once cool to handle the peel should come off easily, discard the seeds and membrane as well.
  2. Transfer coarsely chopped poblano, scallions, cilantro and yogurt to the blender jar and process until smooth. Add salt, lime juice and cumin powder to taste. Use immediately or store refrigerated in an air tight container for up to a 1 day.
Warm the corn tortillas lightly to make them pliable again. This can be done on a skillet or cover a stack of them in aluminum foil and place in a warm over for 10 mins. Spread out all your fixings on a table for a taco bar or assemble them as you go. Place a spoonful of slaw on the taco, top with charred corn, radish sprouts and finally drizzle a spoonful of poblano chile dressing over all of it, right before serving.

Notes: Swap charred corn with roasted onions & peppers or marinated and cooked tofu/mushrooms or crisp sauteed potatoes or well, the choices are endless. You can also add a zippy guacamole tomato salsa or tomatillo salsa as topping additions.

This is a perfect summer dish loaded with crunchy veggies and vibrant flavors that keep these tacos light and refreshing. Since its all about the fillings I like to use smaller tortilla's and prefer the flavor of corn tortilla's over flour. There are no strict rules with this though so make it your own and use flavors and ingredients you enjoy. Each component is good on its own too and can be used in many other forms. If I have left over salsa's and roasted corn or peppers I make a burrito bowl with the addition of black beans and rice. Add some steamed edamame, cranberries and toasted slivered almonds to the slaw for a light mid-week lunch.

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