Monday, October 31, 2005

Paal Khoa- The microwave way

Diwali is tomorrow. So I kicked off the cooking routine for the festival today without the use of the stove. Paal khoa is milk that has been thickened with sugar and cardamom to a paste-like consistency. I still cannot forget the taste of delicious Aavin paal khoa. Making it requires patience and time. You boil the milk and simmer, it stirring all the time until it is thickened. One of our friends has arranged for a party to exchange sweets and snacks. When it comes to large-scale khoa-making, IT IS a lot of effort. So I thought I had nothing to lose when it came to try it the microwave way. Instead of condensing the milk, on the stove, a can of condensed milk goes into this. In just 6 minutes, you have a delicious paal khoa. The only work that is needed is stirring the mass every 2 minutes or so.

Although this is eaten with a spoon, I made it into small pedas for the guests to eat as a finger food. This makes about 20-25 small pieces.

Microwave paal khoa or peda

3 Cups Milk powder (non-fat is ok)
1 Can Sweetened Condensed Milk
1/2 Stick unsalted butter
pinch saffron (optional)
1/2 tsp Cardamom powder
Chopped pistachios

Melt the butter in the microwave in a microwable casserole with a lid. Add milk powder, condensed milk, and saffron. Mix well. Close the lid, microwave for 2 minutes. Remove, and stir. Add ground cardamom and mix.

Keep repeating for every 2 minutes (total around 6 minutes), until the color changes from yellow to light brown. Let them cool to luke warm. Make them into balls, and shape them to pedas. Or you can serve it like a halwa. Decorate with chopped pistachios.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A new set of books

I happened to find some great used books at I received my order of seven great books last week. Total cost, only $53.00. Check them out for some great deals.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Cooking with soy meats- Portugese Kale soup

I am an occasional chickenitarian in an otherwise vegetarian family. My husband got converted into a lacto-ovo vegetarianism more than ten years ago. But the soy meats that have flooded the market are a boon for families that have members who are mainly vegetarian. Also, eating lentils and beans as a source of protein can sometimes be boring. I like to use soy chicken, pepperoni and bacon and love their texture and smoky flavor they give to dishes. Even though I have not tasted real pepperoni, I love the soy pepperoni on pizzas. The soy chicken has a sort of meaty flavor and texture. I use it Indian chicken curries.

Recently, I saw a soy chorizo at Super Walmart and instantly, remembered about Rachel Ray's kale-chorizo soup that has been much raved about at the forums. Kale is a green that has so much nutrition but it is very underused in our household since it is rather tough and bitter.

The soup was delicious with a smoky flavor. I used white beans and vegetable broth instead of garbanzo beans and chicken broth. Kale does not become too soft like other greens and it has a bite to it without any bitterness. It is a filling and comforting meal by itself.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Banana pepper sabzi

Every cook has his/her cooking style. I prefer to follow recipes closely but my mom is totally different. She always adds some of her favorite ingredients to all the recipes giving them her unique touch. Some of her favorite ingredients are puffed channa dal, besan and garlic. She made up this recipe several years ago and this has become a family favorite. In India, we use long, mild peppers that are fried in bajjis. The spice mix is a traditional tamilian powder that is used to stuff baby eggplants and peppers. Since banana peppers are used, they are quite spicy. I have also used Anaheim peppers for a milder dish.

Banana pepper sabzi

6 banana peppers, stems removed, seeds and membrane removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tsp urad dal
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
salt to taste
1/2 tsp oil

Spice mix

3 tsp coriander seeds
1.5 tsp urad dal
1.5 tsp chana dal
1 tsp puffed chana
3 dry red chilies (you can reduce this if you want a mild version)
1 T dessicated coconut
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp oil

For spice mix: Heat 1/4 tsp oil and add all the ingredients except salt and coconut. Saute until dark golden brown. Add coconut and turn off heat. Grind into a coarse powder along with salt. This can be used as a stuffing or as a seasoning.

Sabzi: Heat oil and add urad dal, cumin and mustard seeds. After seeds splutter, add the chopped peppers and some salt. Sprinkle some water, cover tightly and cook until almost done. Remove cover and add 1-2 Tbsp of the spice mix and saute until completely dry and spice mix is slightly toasted.

This goes great with soft homestyle dosas and chapatis. Don't forget to have a bowl of yogurt on the side in case you get a fiery pepper.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Almond, hazelnut bark

I have been having a big time chocolate tooth since last week (partly, thanks to SHF). When I saw a recipe in Leite's Culinaria for a Pistachio, hazelnut chocolate bark, I decided to try it. I always need a reason to make a particular recipe, it seems. I have never worked with tempered chocolate and this was the reason for choosing to make this one (besides an unused chocolate thermometer). What I was expecting to do was a homemade version of Cadbury's Fruit and nut bar.

The recipe called for 1.5 cups of tempered chocolate and seriously, I do not know how much of chocolate I would need for that. So I used a recipe for Almond bark from Nick Malgieri's Chocolate book.

The result was perfect and would be even better with my favorite milk chocolate.

Almond, hazelnut, pumpkin seed bark

8 oz 60 % bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli), tempered
8 oz mixed nuts (I used almonds, hazelnuts, pepitas)
Handful of black raisins
A pinch of fleur de sel, for sprinkling on top

Toast nuts separately. Remove skin off the hazelnuts. Chop all the nuts coarsely.

Tempering based on Malgieri's instructions:

1. Melt chocolate over a double boiler or microwave till the temp. rises to between 115 and 200 F.
2. Cool chocolate at room temp, stirring occasionally, until temperature falls to low eighties. When the chocolate satrts to set up around the top edge of the bowl, you can say that the temp is right. I did not use the seeding method here.

3. Keep the chocolate again on top of a double boiler and let temperature rise to between 88-91 F for dark chocolate (or 86-88 F for milk or white chocolate). If the temperature rises to above the given range, you have to start all over again.

Mix some of the nuts and all the raisins into the tempered chocolate. Spread onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle remaining nuts and fleur de sel on top. Let set at rom temperature for about 30 min. Break up the set chocolate into large pieces. This keeps well at room temperature in an air-tight container.

Friday, October 21, 2005

SHF #13- Re-engineered Chocolate Decadence

I have been eyeing recipes from Alice Medrich's low-fat bible 'Chocolate and the art of low-fat desserts' and Lovescool has given me a great excuse to make a recipe from it giving us a dark and desirable theme. This is my first experience with Ms. Medrich's recipe and whoo hoo, it uses up a lot of bowls and loads of chocolate too. This is the reincarnation of a sinful dessert that used heavy cream, butter, eggs and chocolate as the main ingredients. Sweet!

However this recipe for chocolate decadence is rather toned down with most of the fat coming from the chocolate. I used Scharffen Berger's 70 % bittersweet chocolate. After refrigerating for 24 hours, a piece of the cake was heavenly but it was not overwhelmingly rich as some chocolate desserts are. The cake is supposed to serve 12 (but an 8 inch cake has to be sliced into thin strips, I think, if it has to serve 12). The cake, or dessert is dense, fudgy and moist. There was a mint undertone, that was pleasant. Does Scharffen Berger's chocolate have a minty taste that anyone has noticed? It tasted like an overbaked cheesecake but in a good sense.

The cake is pleasantly bitter but to appease our sweet tooth I served it with caramel sauce and a little whipped cream. Thanks Lovescool for this dark, sinful theme.

Quest's quest for great food

Richard Quest, the business news anchor for CNN Europe, also has his monthly interview show, Quest. In September's Quest, this guy met with great chefs across three continents to find the secret ingredient that keeps them going. The list of great chefs and their success formula can be found here. One of my favorite Indian chefs, Sanjeev Kapoor is also featured in the show.

Friday, October 14, 2005


The colorful bhelpuri has a fan following like no other street food in India. It is found as gilla (wet and saucy) and sookha (dry) bhel. Even our part of South India has a drier version. The original Bombay Bhel uses three different chutnies to spice up the otherwise dull puffed rice- sweet date chutney, mint chutney and some garlic chutney. Deccanheffalump has neat recipes for the garlic and date chutnies. The mint chutney is made by grinding equal quantities of mint and cilantro with a small piece of fresh ginger and a few serrano chilies. Squeeze some lemon juice and add salt as needed. Unless you are entertaining a lot of people at home, it is quite uneccessary, not to mention, time-consuming to prepare the three chutneys. Besides, homemade ones do not keep well. If you are interested in trying this spicy snack, a visit to the Indian grocery store should provide you with all the ingredients.

Normally I mix varying amounts of the three chutneys together according to my taste. But it is quite difficult to get the spiciness of the chutneys that a bhel-waalas makes. Besides, the 'ready-made' taste is overwhelming.

During the course of my constant experimentation, I found that this not-so-authentic mix of bhel, chutneys and sauces seem to work well. The taste of my homemade bhelpuri has gone up to a new level.

Bhelpuri (a not-so authentic version)

2 cups of Store-bought bhel mix (consists of toasted puffed rice, sev and potato chips)
1/4 cup of roasted, salted peanuts (optional, but adds a great crunch)
2 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and cut into large pieces
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped (I like to leave it out sometimes)
1 small slice of green mango, finely chopped with skin (optional, a nice addition by Chennai bhel-waalas)
2 T finely chopped cilantro
1 slice of lemon

Mix together 2 T
sweet chutney
, 1 tsp
mint chutney
, 1/4 tsp garlic chutney, 1 T maggi Hot and sweet sauce and 1 tsp of red chili sauce (I used Thai sauce but this is optional), 1/2 tsp chat masala. The sauce should not be very thick but more like a bechamel. I use some water to dilute it. Some lemon juice can be used instead.

Keep the bhel mix in a large mixing bowl. Add potatoes, onion, tomatoes, peanuts, mango and cilantro. Now add just enough chutney to coat the mixture without making it too soggy. Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Almond Kheer for the Gods

As a part of Navratri celebration, we make a sweet pudding and a savory snack mix everyday to serve our guests. One important part of all our celebrations is sweet milk puddings called payasam or kheer. Although there are more than a dozen varieties of payasam, almond kheer is very special. Making it is simple but it remains a delicacy in India due to the very high price of almonds. Besides, a generous pinch of the most expensive spice, saffron is also added, giving it is beautiful pale yellow color. Whenever we go to India, one usual request from relatives is to get them a huge packet of almonds (the one sold at Wholesale warehouses). This is an expensive dish to make but it is the best way to savor the delicate taste of almonds and saffron.

Almond Kheer

1 litre or a very generous 4 cups of milk (low-fat also works)
3-4 T milk for grinding almonds
3/4 cup whole almonds, blanched and skins removed
1.5 cups sugar
A very generous pinch of saffron, crushed in a mortar
Sliced almonds and pistachios for garnish

1. Powder almonds coarsely. Add 3-4 T milk and grind to a smooth paste.
2. Bring milk to a boil in a heavy saucepan on medium heat. Add crushed saffron, turn down heat and simmer milk till it is reduced to 3/4 th of the original quantity.
3. Heat a skillet on medium heat. Add almond paste and saute until paste is thickened and you smell a delicious aroma of almonds. Do not let it change color at all. Add sugar and mix until sugar dissolves and the paste become thin. (Some people also skip the sauteeing step and add paste directly to the hot milk. But then you need to boil the milk longer like for 25 min, to cook the almonds. I always had the problem of burnt payasam when I simmer it for such a long duration.)

4. Add the paste to the simmering milk and simmer for 10 min more. Garnish with sliced nuts.

This kheer is best served cold. It is not very sweet like other payasams.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Holy Nine Days

Today is the start of Navaratri- nine days and nights of festivities for us. Prayers are offered to three main Goddesses- Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. It signifies the victory of good over evil. This festival is celebrated throughout India but the form of celebration (and food too) varies. In Tamil Nadu and some southern states, a few odd number of steps are set up and dolls that represent important religious deities are placed on these steps. This is called a "Golu".

This is a festival for the ladies and a celebration of womanhood. We invite people we know to see the arrangement and send them home with special food preparations made for the occasion along with a small bag of gifts.

In most Southern states, Sundal, a snack mix made of lentils or beans is a daily preparation. It is served to the guests and each guest is sent home with sundal packed in pages from the previous day's newspaper. In our family, we do not use onions and garlic on holy days and so most of our sundals have grated coconut to boost flavor. For Day 1, I made a sundal made of channa dal. Nupur has a great chart of the different lentils and beans for reference.

Channa dal sundal

Channa Dhal - 1 cup
Salt - 1/2 tsp
Oil - 1 tsp (I love the taste coconut oil gives)
Mustard Seeds - 1/2 tsp
Urad Dhal - 1/2 tsp
Dry Red Chilly - 2, broken
Green chilies- 2, finely chopped (optional)
1 sprig of curry leaves

Clean the channa dal and soak in warm water for 10-15 min. Cook with enough water (with a pinch of turmeric added) to submerge lentils. When the dal is almost cooked add about 3/4 tsp salt. Continue to cook until completely tender but not mushy. Try not to over cook. Decant the excess water completely and set aside for a couple of minutes. Heat up the oil and fry the mustard seeds, urad dhal and chilly. When the mustard splutters, add the green chilies and curry leaves. Add the cooked dhal and 1/2 tsp salt (the salt added earlier would have been decanted off with the water) and stir for a few minutes. If interested, you may add a handful of grated coconut (I always do it).

This is a protein-rich snack especially for vegetarians and is very portable.