Tuesday, April 25, 2006

'Way too healthy' cookies

I am on the lookout for recipes that would be a healthy snack to eat for my toddler and even for us. I came across this recipe in the April issue of Cooking Light. I made a whole lot of changes but the result was very delicious and satisfactory. I have to let you know that this is a soft, cakey cookie. I find a lot of people's taste are for the other kind. But if you have a toddler, you won't go wrong with this soft cookie.

Banana-coconut cookies- 24 cookies

2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
(the cookie is on the sweet side. The sugar can be reduced by 2T)

1/2 cup ripe mashed banana (I used 1 normal sized banana)
1/2 cup applesauce
1 T mayonnaise
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup AP flour
1 cup quick cooking oats
1/2 c sweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon (can use a mix of other spices too)

1. Beat sugar, mashed banana, applesauce, vanilla and mayo in a large bowl and beat until blended.
2. Combine all the rest of the ingredients in another bowl. Stir flour mixture into banana mixture until well-combined.
3. Use 2 T dough for each cookie. Drop dough into parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 350 F for 20 min or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. This has to be eaten within a couple of days since they soften too much after that.

I made so many changes to this recipe (I never modify recipes that are to be baked). I really thought I would screw-up. But they turned out very well.

Here are the changes I made:
1. I added 1/4 cup whole wheat flour while it was all refined flour in original recipe.
2. The original used 1/2 cup mayo and no applesauce.
3. The original was baked until very lightly colored but then they have the texture and color of muffins. I did not find that too appealing in a cookie.

For a not so healthy version, you can try this way too. If you find that they come out crisp, please let me know. There will definitely be repeat acts of this cookie.

Monday, April 24, 2006

10 minute sambar, really!

This is a very easy sambar for dosa and idli. It is very flavorful but there is no hassle of cooking dal separately. The sambar is thickened with dalia powder. The taste is at its best with pearl onions but any sweetish onion can be used.

Ten minute sambar

1/2 cup sliced onion or about 15-20 pearl onions, peeled and halved
3 large tomatoes, finely chopped
1 T coriander powder mixed with 1/2 tsp usual sambar powder
2 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp sugar or jaggery (optional)

Powder fine: 1 1/2 T dalia (pottukadalai)

Heat 1/2 tsp oil. Add 1 tsp mustard seeds and curry leaves and let splutter. Add the onions and saute until softened on medium-low heat (not browned). If the onions are not very soft, it will have an unpleasant texture since we don't simmer this as much as normal sambar. Add tomatoes, chili powder, sambar powder, coriander powder and saute till soft and saucy. Now add about 3-4 cups water, turmeric, salt and sugar and let it simmer on high for 5 min. Lastly, mix in dalia powder and let it go for a minute more. Turn off stove and serve garnished with cilantro.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Chakka pradhaman a.k.a Jackfruit payasam

This is a dish we make for naivedhyam for Vishu. Since my grandparents are from Palghat, my family has had a long-standing tradition of making a lot of keralite brahmin dishes.

I searched high and low for a good, ripe jackfruit in San Jose. I did not succeed. For the payasam, the jackfruit should be at the peak of ripeness. I was forced to use canned slices. The recipe is slightly more work because the chakka varatti or jam has to be made at least one day before. But this microwave version is a lot easier than sauteeing it on stove-top. If you choose to make it in the MW, that means I have saved you from lot of splattering on your hands and stove.

Part 1: Make varatti or jackfruit jam

2 cans jackfruit or 10 slices (pressure cook until very soft)
Powdered jaggery
1 -2 T fresh grated coconut
1 tsp cardamom
2 tsp ghee

Grind the jackfruit with no water into a very smooth paste. Measure the paste. Take equal quantity of powdered jaggery in a saucepan. Add 2-3 T water and let jaggery melt. Filter scum in jaggery. Mix paste with jaggery. Now transfer to a ceramic mw-safe container that has been greased with ghee. Microwave for about 8-10 min on high, stirring every 2 min. You should get the consistency of wheat halwa. When it is just shy of reaching that stage, add coconut and ghee. Mix and let it cook until done. Lastly, mix in ground cardamom. You can cool this paste and store it in refrigerator for 2 weeks. If you do not add coconut, it can be frozen and stored longer. You can also make this into a drier paste. Then it can be used only for payasam. This makes about 2 cups varatti.

Uses of varatti: We eat it like jam with adai and bread. Besides payasam, we use it to make elai adai. We also eat it like a halwa (you have to reduce jaggery if you want to eat as is).

Chakka payasam

1/2 cup chakka varatti
2 T jaggery
1/4 cup water
2 cups thick coconut milk
1 tsp ground cardamom
2 T coconut bits, fried in ghee (can also add cashew)

Melt jaggery in water and remove scum. Add varatti and let it soften into a sauce. When this mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and add coconut milk. Let it come to a simmer. This requires constant stirring to prevent coconut milk from curdling. Turn off heat, add cardamom and coconut bits.

This is a decadent dish for jackfruit lovers. For an easier jackfruit payasam, try this other recipe posted last year.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Coriander powder or thokku

This is a family recipe, invented/learned by my mom and perfected under my dad's guidance (he is an arm-chair cook). We use the name 'sambaara puli' but it is actually a version of coriander powder/thokku. I have been eating this for years and it is a part of the care package when someone comes here from India. According to mom, this is a kerala dish. However, I am not sure about its origins. Anyway, the recipe yields 2 cups of dried powder-like chutney/thokku. It is ideal with yogurt rice, dosas or for making coriander rice.

I am so happy that cilantro is selling for $0.29 here. I can make this as often as I want. Unlike coriander thokku, this can stay for upto a month in the refrigerator. This is because all the water has been removed. You can also make it paste-like for a more moist texture.

Coriander thokku

2 bunches fresh cilantro, cleaned and dried completely
1 small piece tamarind, soaked in a tsp of water to soften a little
15 red chillies
2 T gram dal
2 T urad dal
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
pinch of hing


2 T oil
1 ts mustard seeds

1. The cilantro has to be cleaned and dried very well. For this, I leave the cleaned leaves outside overnight, exposed to air. That does it. Heat a skillet and dry roast red chilies, dals, hing and mustard seeds until mustard pops and dals are reddish. Powder coarsely.
2. Grind cilantro with tamarind until smooth.
3. Heat 2 T oil in a skillet, add mustard seeds and let them pop. Add the cilantro paste and saute until it turns a dark green. Now add the powder and saute, saute and saute some more until most of the water is eliminated. The mixture will now be on the way to becoming a brownish-green.
4. I recommend adding salt at this stage, since we can get a better idea of how much salt is required. Keep sauteeing on low heat, until oil sizzles around edges and mixture is dry paste/powder-like. You can decide at this stage when to remove from heat based on what consistency you want.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Happy Tamil New Year and Vishu!

Tomorrow is a busy day for me 'coz there is a lot of cooking to be done. Besides, we will be leaving Lake Tahoe in the afternoon.

For our new year lunch, this is the usual menu- we make chakka payasam, dal vadai, usual sambar, rasam, vegetable and a neem pachadi and/or neem rasam. So my advance tamil new year and vishu wishes to you all.

See you soon with a related recipe.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mango rice

This one is for you Shammi! When I made this I remembered that you had asked for the recipe, which I truly forgot about. This recipe is a slight departure from what my mom makes. This is more in the style of kannada mango rice.

Mango rice

Cook 1 cup rice so that it is well-cooked but not mushy.

Grind the following into a paste:

1 large green mango, grated
4 green chilies
1 red chili (optional)
1 -2 tsp mustard seeds (I like more mustard flavor)
about 3/4 c grated coconut

Heat a pan with 1-2 T oil. Add cashewnuts or peanuts and toast slightly. Remove. Now add 1 tsp jeera, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp chana dal, a good dash of asafoetida and some curry leaves. After mustard splutters, add the paste, 1/2 tsp turmeric and salt as required. Fry for a couple of minutes. You don't want the paste to lose its potency (mango must taste fresh and you should get a little raw mustard taste).

Lastly add rice, mix and turn off stove. Mix in the roasted nuts.

So that's it. The only difference here compared to my mom's recipe is that she does not add mustard seeds to the paste. That gives quite a different taste. If you don't use the mustard, then the ground paste can be sauteed as mentioned above till oil floats on top. This can be served as mango thogaiyal with dosa.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Avakkai- The king of all pickles

In my opinion, there is no better pickle than avakkai. True to the name pickle or urugai, it is very spicy, oily and potent. But I have never been able to recreate it on my own. My mom and grand mom are great pickle makers. They follow all the rules of pickle-making and their creations will last at room temperature for at least a year. But I am too bored of sticking to rules. Besides, I am the only one in our small family here who eats pickles. So I make avakkai with just two green mangoes. You should have about 3 cups of chopped mango bits with 2 large mangoes.

Avakkai is a tasty mix of sour mango pieces, mustard powder, salt, chili powder and sesame oil. This recipe is small enough for you to test your pickling skills but large enough to last at least a month. There is no cooking involved but just a marination time of at least 15 days. The longer the pickle sits the better the flavor.

2 large green, sour Mangoes
1 cup or more Sesame oil
1/2 cup coarse Mustard powder
1/2 cup to 2/3 cup Chili powder
Salt, as required (you will have to add at least 1/2 cup)
2 tsp fenugreek powder
Asafoetida, a good couple of pinches

One good quality plastic or glass container.

Wash and cut mangoes into small bits with the kernel inside. Wipe and dry under the fan for some time until all the moisture is completely evaporated. Mix spices with half the amount of oil. Add mango bits and mix well. Store in a jar or container.Add remaining oil and mix well. Give it a taste. The pickle should be on the salty, hot side.

Oil should be enough to immerse pickle completely.Close the lid properly. Give the container a shake or two everyday. Start using after 15 days. You can choose to add some sauteed garlic pods also though this is not traditional in tamil avakkai.

There should be a layer of oil floating on top if the pickle should last long.

Store this pickle in refrigerator if pickling and sterilization rules are not followed.