Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels


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Appa’s Sweet Potato Chips

One of the things I miss the most about Appa is his crispy, salty-sweet sweet potato chips. Amongst other things, of course. There have been countless Sundays (his only off day) we used to find him standing over a pot of hot oil and wielding a mandoline in one hand and a chunk of sweet potato, also called VaLLikizhangu in Tamiil, in the process of making the crispiest chips in the world! It used to be raw plantain sometimes but no matter which vegetable, his chips had a huge fan following at home and outside, for I remember fighting over a bag of these yummies with my friends at college once.
sweet potato chipsBut then, I never bothered asking him how he managed to it so delicious, so perfect every time. Or I probably knew the reason already- culinary trance. Although I some how feel he would have disown that term with horror if I had mentioned it to him, I kinda get the feeling that it was exactly that. So when I wanted to make it at home three years ago, I asked my mother for the recipe and she thought I had gone crazy. It was the easiest thing to make: grate the sweet potatoes, heat the oil, fry them and add salt to the container you put the chips it, close the lid and shake the box until dizzy.

I followed the recipe. And I failed. I also had to give up making it because back then, we used to live in a super-tiny apartment and the fire alarm there could weirdly sense when I was about to fry. I swear it would go off the minute I start heating up the pot of oil. But things have changed since then. I have a better command over the kitchen now, have since disowned my grater and finally and most importantly, we live in a better apartment with tall ceilings and better ventilation now. So a week ago, I decided that it was time to put Appa’s recipe to test again.

I was not disappointed this time! I ended up with the crispiest bowl of perfectly browned chips. How did I do it? I ditched the mandoline and “hand-crafted” my chips. Yes, I used a knife (and felt secretly pleased at my gradually acquired knife skills). Moreover, I practiced the art of keeping my hands to myself and resisted adjusting the temperature every time I felt like it. It was at the medium mark all through (after heating it up at high, of course!). And finally, at the fear of breaking my precious chips while mixing in the salt, I sprinkled some as soon as they got out of the oil pot. I have seen people doing this on television. It was bound to be a sensible thing to do, and it was.

I ended up missing Appa extra lot, of course. But I wagged a chip up at heaven as we sat eating our lunch. I am sure he was pretty proud of the chip maker in me!

 

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Bhindi Sambhariya

If there is one cuisine (apart from an eclectic mix of many other) I had to eat all my life, I would probably choose Gujarati. Why not? Their spices are mild, every dish is invariably vegetarian, made with fresh vegetables at that, and most of the dishes have a slight sweetness to them. So yes, why not? I first tasted Gujju food in this wonderful little restaurant in Madras called Mansukh’s Sweets and Snacks. It is quite a famous place to eat in my locality back home and the Gujarati Thali you got there used to be unparalleled. Yes, I used the past tense because the quality has pretty much gone down the drain now.
bhindi sambariya2When it used to be an awesome place to dine at, I got a chance to do a feature on them for the Newspaper I was working for. After the interview, the owner of the store gave me and my friend (who was the protographer) some Basundi that s the most decadent dessert I have ever tasted! But apart from a vestige of better known Gujarati fare, Mansukh’s never served anything more native. So I decided to dig deeper and find foods that we can enjoy at home instead of dream about another visit to the restaurant.

My favorite place to look for Indian food, Tarla Dalal’s literature, is where I began. I bought The Complete Gujarati Cookbook off Amazon (thank you very much, Prime!) and proceeded to turn pages, admiring the simplicity of Dalal’s narration and the wholesome Gujarati foods she has featured in the book. I sent her a silent thanks for not including the usual suspects like Khakra and Jalebi and proceeded to examine the book with much care.
bhindi sambariyaMy most favorite dish (and the first I made) in the book is the Bhindi Sambhariya. A close cousin of Bharli Vangi, this tasty side makes okra the star of the show. By stuffing this normally slimy (but very tasty) vegetable with fresh spices(hence the name Sambhariya, where Bhariya means fill or stuff), Gujarati home cooks only hit the ball out of the park. I don’t stuff, no sir. When I get cooking, I am always pressed for time. Moreover, eating stuffed whole okras and the husband don’t go together but let me not go into details on this. You don’t want to know that info on a food blog. Although there are many versions to this Sambhariya, here is mine-

Bhindi Sambhariya (Adapted from Tarla Dalal’s The Complete Gujarati Cookbook)

Ingredients
Two cups fresh okra, diced into bite-size pieces (or one and a half tray, leave it whole and slit a hole in the side)

One fourth cup cooking oil

To be mixed together:
Six Tbsp freshly scraped coconut (no other kind would do)

One tsp ginger-green chile paste

One tsp turmeric powder

Two tsp cumin-coriander powder

One tsp Garam Masala powder

One tsp Aamchur/dry mango powder (substitute with two tsps lemon juice)

One Tbsp jaggery (substitute brown sugar but I strongly recommend jaggery)

One tsp salt

One Tbsp sesame seeds

Two Tbsp ground peanut (optional but recommended)

Method:
If you dice the okra, mix it with the Masala paste. Heat oil in a pan, add the okra mixture, put a lid on and cook it on medium-low heat until the vegetable is cooked. Make sure you give it a gentle mix a couple of times in the middle to prevent burning.

If you slit the whole okras, stuff the Masala into it and cook it exactly like I have mentioned above.

Adapting either of the methods doesn’t alter the taste. I should probably not call mine “Sambhariya” but I exercise my blogger license here since I adapted it from the traditional recipe.


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Snacky Paneer from the Fake Tandoor

Don’t you love Paneer? Don’t you just love that chewy goodness called Paneer, a close cousin of ricotta and just the perfect replacement to meat in most dishes that roll out of a Tandoor kitchen? Um, I don’t like it all that much. True story. But when I was young(er), I used to have dreams about devouring huge amounts of Paneer Butter Masala and Paneer Tikka and miraculously escaping the indigestion that was sure to follow. That phase passed and fortunately-erm, for Kishore, really- I make Paneer exclusively for him these days.

Paneer Tikka is one of those appetizer dishes that holds a permanent place on any Indian restaurant menu. It is a breeze to make (without the Tandoor, of course), an ultimate favorite with the hub and my round two recipe for a frozen piece of Paneer that was sleeping in the freezer. I cooked it in the oven and finished it on a pan because with a sleeping child in the house on a scotching Alabama summer day, the broiler was something I wanted to avoid switching on.
Paneer tikka
Paneer Tikka

Ingredients:

To be diced into huge pieces-
A slab of Paneer

Half an onion

One tomato

Half a green bell pepper

For the marinade-
One cup thick yogurt

Two Tbs gram flour (or AP)

Half tsp chili powder

Half a tsp turmeric powder

One tsp Garam Masala

One tsp Chat Masala

One Tbsp ginger-garlic paste

One tsp salt

Method:

Whisk together the ingredients for the marinade. Marinate the Paneer for two hours. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Lay the Paneer pieces on a foil lined sheet. Dunk the veggies in the marinade and lay them out. Bake for twenty minutes. When done, heat a pan, transfer the Paneer and the vegetables and toast till brown on both sides. Serve with green chutney.


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Do You Remember Cup Corn?

Summer sweet corn is here and no one can be happier than I am! I have such great plans for these wonderful kernels of sweetness for this summer and cannot wait to get my hands on them every week. So when I bought them last evening, I already had the perfect starter snack for my sweet corn: cup corn!

cilantro corn

Cup Corn is a very common street food in India and comes in so many versatile flavors, none of which I remember really! So my recipe pick for the day was a pretty much a free-hit since I went with my instincts and literally dropped all the seasoning I thought would jive well together. This is probably why I ended up with a huge bowl of succulent, sweet  corn that was devoured within half an hour of making it! Since I am at the risk of sounding like a glutton, I would like to mention that I had a couple of enthusiastic consumers (one probably more eager than the other. No prizes for guessing who is who, of course) helping me.

Since most of you already know how to steam/cook/roast corn on the cob, here is the recipe for the Cayenne-Garlic Butter Infused with Garlic and Cilantro:

Ingredients:
Half a stick of butter

One Tbsp Olive Oil

Two pods of garlic finely grated

A pinch cayenne pepper powder

Quarter cup cilantro

A dash of lime

One tsp salt

Method:
Melt butter and oil with garlic and cayenne pepper powder on low heat. If you like your garlic well cooked, let it go for five minutes. I love the taste of fresh garlic so I cook it for two minutes. Add the cilatro (save a Tbsp for later), salt and squeeze in the lime. Pour the butter in a shallow pan if you are leaving the corn on the cob. Turn them a few times to coat. I removed the kernels from the corn so I pored the butter over the bowl of corn and mixed it well. Garnish with the rest of the cilantro. Done!

This makes enough butter for four ears of corn.

Serving Size: One ear of corn

Total carbs: 17g

With dressing: 20g


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Cuppa Joe- Drawing Parallels and Finding Differences

I am not going to talk about how much we South Indians love our “tumbler” of coffee. This concept has already been overdone on a million other Indian food blogs because every South Indian blogger is wildly proud of the filter coffee we grew up drinking or watching people drink. Making it is yet another story. If you need more information, Wiki, as always, has answers.

In another land where people are fiercely protective about their cuppa, it is always an adventure to go shopping for coffee powder and deciding whether decaf or extra dark is the right way to go. My taste in coffee hovers between the two extremes. While I prefer good ‘ol Folger’s for everyday consumption in the American South, I am a sucker for the traditional mug of piping hot filter coffee back home. So when Amma came here, she brought with her a huge bag filled with Coffee Day coffee powder packages that is probably going to last us a few months.

Result: I have temporarily migrated back to my strong filter coffee with a dash of milk and Splenda. Life is perfect again!
strong coffeeSo what is it that distinguishes the South Indian coffee from the All-American coffee? Surprisingly, nothing much! The former is a denser and finer sibling of the latter, hence, it feels like it has more flavor. Moreover, the mouth feel varies between the two primarily because of the difference in the coffee powder-water ratio. South Indians make their base, what we call decoction, thicker and “tar-like” which means a quarter cup of the concentrate and three-quarters a cup of milk makes perfectly strong coffee (boiling the milk also helps the consistency and gives it a special, sweeter taste).

Since the American coffee base contains more water, we end up with a watery (yet tasty) cuppa to which we add just a tiny spot of creamer. This works for me because in America, I love my coffee regular, black and with a hint of sugar.

Of course, the apparatus we use to brew coffee should also be mentioned here, for these contraptions literally decide what kind of coffee you are going to have that day. South Indians may talk all they want but the traditional coffee filter they use actually yields slightly diluted decoction; but thankfully most people in charge of making this brew are finished with this often troublesome contraption and have moved on to the more modern (and more effective) electric coffee maker… which is what I bought on my 2011 trip to India. This trusty little piece of equipment has never let me down and I love her dearly.

Now, you may try making Indian-style coffee with Starbucks’ dark roast in an American coffee maker with lesser amount of water. But it will not be the same and may clog up your coffee maker. Tasty it will turn out, for sure. But really, Indian coffee is redundant without the Indian coffee filter as is American coffee without the American coffee powder!


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Creamy Indian Treat

I am not a fan of Indian sweets. There, I said it. You can judge me now.

Personally, I feel that they are too sweet (like they are trying a little too hard to stand up to their name), sometimes too rich and come along with so many varieties at the same time that you can easily OD on sweets during festive seasons. Hence, apart from a select list of sweets, I try to stay away from em as much as possible. One of my exceptions happens to be Kulfi, the Indian frozen treat that  is made with dairy and  flavored with green cardamom, saffron and pistachio.

kulfi1

Every Kulfi lover will have one thing in common: an awesome story or two connected with devouring this tasty treat in the summer. Mine includes sleeping in the terrace with my sister and cousins, stalling the Kulfi-wala who used to come calling at our door at 11pm everyday and buying ice cream every single time… until we got sick of it. What makes Kulfi pretty special is the terracotta cup it usually comes in. The mild taste of earth mixed with the sweet taste of cardamom works so wonderfully in this dish that you end up wanting a sliver more than you got in that small cup.

Sadly, I don’t own earthenware cups to store Kulfi in but the extra creaminess I added to this version compensated for that. My beautiful little ice cream maker (yes, to celebrate summer, I bought a basic ice cream maker. I am in love!) whipped up the most delicious bowl of Kulfi. Ever.

Creamy Kulfi Ice cream

Ingredients:
One cup low-fat ricotta cheese

One and a half cup low-fat evaporated milk

Half cup sugar (or Splenda)

Half cup toasted-salted pistachio nuts

Half tsp powdered cardamon

Few strands of saffron

Special equipment: Ice cream maker (optional)

Method:
Heat the evaporated milk in a pan along with the sugar. Take it off heat when it begins to boil. Add the cardamom powder and saffron stands to it and whisk well. Mix in the ricotta cheese, ensuring that there are no lumps. At this stage, the Kulfi mixture is generally poured into popsicle moulds and frozen. But for a creamier ice cream, cool the mixture in the refrigerator for a couple of hours (I chilled it in the freezer for 45 minutes), pour it in the canister of your ice cream maker and freeze. You could eat it as a soft-serve but I recommend freezing it overnight for a creamy ice cream.

kulfiPs: forgive the messy pics. It was a hot day and I was dealing with frozen food. You do the math!


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Everyday Dal

I think it is the quintessential South Indian dad thing: going to a “multi-cuisine” Indian restaurant with the family (whilst cribbing about the overwhelming flavor of Masala in every dish that rolls out of the kitchen). And raining on the parade by ordering a drab ‘ol Dal with his Phulka while the rest of us act specifically embarrassing, like kids in a candy shop, and drool all over the lengthy menu while trying to decide what to order. Oh, it gets worse. We would all ultimately end up over-ordering, thanks to all the excitement over the non-home cooked meal and would look towards Appa, asking him politely if he wanted some, subtly screaming for help with finishing off the meal. He would grimly shake his head and go on with demolishing his Dal, saving the proper dressing-down about wasting food (the take away box would never hold him back, no sir!) for later.

dal tadka3We’ve never been adventurous foodies at home, hence, we had a hand-full of restaurants that we would always frequent: Sree Ram Bhavan, Dhabba Express and later, Madras Race Club (where we set up camp and refused to go anywhere else since the late 90’s). Although the similarities between every restaurant we’ve visited were never stark, the plain Dal, I’ve noticed, were actual doppelgangers: it would always be Dal Tadka… which, as I grow older I find, is not as boring as I always thought it was. Tadka, in Hindi, simply means tempering. So Dal Tadka roughly means Tempered Dal.

It is my go-to Dal these days and we love it with Rotis, Phulkas (so that my dad’s spirit is happy) and Jeera rice. Today, I decided not to be lazy and went in search of a nice homestyle Pulao for the Dal. And as she has been for months now, Nags at Edible Garden came to my rescue. Her simple veggie Pulao, I discovered today, was the perfect compliment to my Dal Tadka. The only small substitution I made was using brown rice instead of white and my trusty slow/rice cooker came to my aid by cooking the best Pulao-worthy plain rice. So if you need the recipe for the awesome Pulao, you could follow the link to her blog and recipe on this post. As for the Dal Tadka, here is the recipe-

Dal Tadka

Ingredients:
3/4 cup red gram Dal (Toor)

3/4 cup Mung Dal

Six pods of garlic and a small piece of ginger, chopped

Four Thai chili peppers, washed and stalks removed

One huge head of onion and two Roma tomatoes, finely chopped (separately)

Two dried red chilis, broken into halves

Two tsps salt

A pinch turmeric powder

One tsp each Jeera, Mustard seeds and Nigella seeds (optional but recommended)

A pinch of Asafoetida powder

A tsp Am-Choor (dried mango powder) which you can substitute with fresh lime juice

Lots of fresh cilantro leaves

Method:
Wash the Dals together and soak them in warm water for half hour. Pressure cook/cook in your rice cooker or a saucepan with the Thai chilis, chopped ginger-garlic, turmeric powder, little salt until well-cooked. Fish out the chilis and whisk the cooked Dal. Heat oil in a pan and add the “Tadka” ingredients: Jeera, mustard, Nigella seeds and asafoetida. When it starts popping, add the onion and saute till translucent on med-low flame. Add the tomato now and cook until slightly mushy. Mix in the Dal with the Masala. When it starts boiling, switch off the heat. Stir in the Am-Choor/lime juice and garnish with cilantro leaves.

dal tadka