Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels


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Summertime is Pickle Time

I have the most amazing recipe to share today and I am bursting with excitement. Summer is officially the pickle and crunchy things making month back home. Come May, you would find women and (as it is in my family) men up in the terrace writing Vethal (the South Indian version of Papadum) with their wonderfully flexible wrists. Since ’tis also the season for mangoes, lemons and lush ginger, you would also find them relentlessly busy, making spicy pickles in the kitchen. My grandmother used to be the queen of summer food and my aunts and father followed her well-trodden footsteps. On the way, they made their own changes to the well-established recipes but during family get-togethers, they would always talk about Paati’s pickles.

The other day, I was out grocery shopping (what else is new, you ask me?) and stumbled upon wonderful ginger roots. They were juicy, fragrant and brazenly calling out to me. I had no other choice but to buy three gigantic roots of ginger. Don’t look at the screen like I’ve gone crazy because I had huge plans for the root. When I got home, I cut one of the gingers into huge chunks, sealed them in Ziplocks and stored them in the freezer (Rachel Ray, thank you very much!). I packed the other two in another Ziplock and put the bag in the fridge… because I was planning to use them soon.

Coming back to the story, while Aavakkai (a pickle made of raw mangoes, mustard and chili powder) was our all time favorite, we found space for gems like Mavadu (baby raw mango pickle), lemon and ginger pickle in our palate. One such pickle is the Puli-Inji (Tamarind-Ginger) pickle. It is a native of Kerala, one of the southern Indian states. Since my grandmother spent most of her teens in Kerala, she adopted the lifestyle, food, language and all, and was very proud of it. Hence, we took wonderful Kerala dishes like Avial, Eriseri and Puli-Inji for granted.

When I saw the ginger in the store, it struck me. I was going to make Puli-Inji. While this is a spicy little side-dish, I assure you that you will fall in love with it. You can always play with the quantity of each ingredient to make it less-spicy, more tangy, etc. I researched online, adapted the recipe from nearly five websites (Puli-Inji is famous!) and ended up with my own. So here we go:

Ingredients:

Two and a half cups of ginger (One huge head of ginger yields that much), peeled and roughly chopped

Five Thai chilies (this makes a very spicy pickle)

One Tbsp tamarind pulp (Indian store, it comes in a bottle. That is the easiest way to deal with tamarind)

One cup water

One tsp salt

One and a half tsp chili powder (again, spice quotient will be high so this is optional)

Three Tbsp jaggery (this is the Indian substitute for sugar. Has high iron content. It is easily available in Indian grocery stores. If you don’t want to buy it, use brown sugar), grated

One tsp mustard seeds

A few fenugreek seeds (Indian store again but this is optional. These seeds are very bitter and used sparingly in Indian cooking)

A few sprigs of curry leaves

Half cup oil (I used sesame oil because I love the taste. You can use any oil other than olive. And don’t worry, we will not use all that while cooking)

A shake of asafoetida

Method:

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottom pan. When it is hot enough, add the ginger pieces and fry on medium-high. When it turns golden brown, with darker brown edges, add the chilies and toss once. Switch off the heat and scoop the fried ginger and chilies out. When cool enough to handle (I gave it an ice water bath), grind it smooth in the mixer. Discard half the oil. Heat the oil again, add mustard. When it starts to pop, add the fenugreek seeds, curry leaves and the asafoetida. Now add the ginger mixture, salt and chili powder (if using). Dissolve the tamarind pulp in the water and add it to the mixture along with jaggery.

When the mixture starts to boil, turn the heat to medium-low. Let the pickle cook until the water is 80% absorbed and the oil separates from it. Switch the heat off, check for salt and let it cool. Transfer to a container, seal it and store in the refrigerator.

What can you eat this with, you ask me? Use it as a spread, dip, add a little water to two tsp of the pickle and marinate veggies or meat. Use it as a glaze for not-so-sweet dessert. Go crazy!

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Indian 101

I realized how cheesy I sound as I typed the headline to this post but it is apt and so it shall stay. I got a couple of e-mails from people who read my blog (thank you, you wonderful people!), demanding to see more easy Indian recipes, stuff you will not find in normal Desi restaurants here. Loosely translated: No Paneer, Tandoori, Dosa or Idli. While the demand did shock me, it also made me secretly happy that people here want to go an extra mile towards some normal Indian cooking. Yes, we don’t always make fiery gravies and tame rice-cakes but balance our palate with other delicious food too.

so before we begin, here is a list of a few basic Indian ingredients you will normally find in any Indian store near home (oh, we know you know our secret hang-out!):

Turmeric powder: we use this for color, flavor and the goodness in this fights cancer.

Chili Powder: And we don’t mean the tame ones. We love our pure cayenne pepper powder and take it with us everywhere.

Tamarind paste: Tang is the word when it comes to it and we use it everywhere we need something sour. This is also the key ingredient in our Sambar, Rasam and a few Chutneys. Back home, we buy it in slabs which comes with seeds. We soak in water, squeeze the juice and use it. The tamarind pulp in bottle you get in stores today saves you a whole lot of time now.

Ground cumin and coriander seeds: if you have cooked Mexican, you probably have both these magical ingredients in the pantry already. They have a warm flavor and we add them in a lot of Indian foods.

Urad Dal: is it a condiment? Is it a pulse? It is both and it is white in color. Broken or whole, it doesn’t matter but this pulse is used to cook and garnish.

Rice: I cannot tell a lie, we love our rice. Basmati, Sona Masoori or Ponni (these are types of rice), we can live on rice without complaining… forever. Normally, we use Sona Masoori or Ponni for everyday use and reserve Basmati for fried rice, Pilaf and Biriyani (due to its unattractive nutrition value)

So there you go. The basic stuff you need to buy on your next grocery shopping.


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So, Artichoke?

If you have come across a very porcupine-ish vegetable lying there, looking completely Pavam amidst prettier vegetables, you can safely admit that you know what artichoke is. Well, to me it was conundrum until I decided to set my unreasonable fear aside and tackle it.

The bulb of artichoke that I had bought two weeks ago sat staring sadly at me through its prickly eyes and I certainly ended up melting. I should probably mention now that I was saturated that day and did not have anything decent in my pantry to make in time for the five-thirty hunger pangs before you go aww. Anyway, I looked for help on google and instantly found a million links to tips on cooking artichoke.

First, I had to boil the tough piece of veggie to make it approachable. After enjoying a 45-minute Jacuzzi bath, the artichoke was ready to be cut, snipped and molded into an edible entity. I gave it ten minutes to cool down and then, taking the pair of kitchen scissors in my hand, I went snip snip and off came the fleshy leaves.

The leaves are supposed to be eaten… in a weird way. I did and they were quite delicious. More on that later. So the leaves trimming revealed a fuzzy ball of fiber known as the “choke” for obvious reasons: you eat it, you will choke on it. Not a pretty picture, I know so I hurriedly cleared this up. The artichoke heart finally decided to appear and I was still not excited.

Imagine holding a small disk like gray-colored object. I didn’t know if this was it or I was supposed to dig deeper. Since the link had specific instructions, I decided to give in and accept that I had indeed touched the “heart”. The mister had tasted artichoke heart during our Anniversary getaway and this is what it had looked like.

Now, I had to ask me that unavoidable question: what am I going to make with it? Like a kitchen wizard (I do flatter myself unnecessarily sometimes) I cut an onion, two pods of garlic, the cooked artichoke and sauteed them in olive oil. Then I added a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and milk and let the concoction coagulate on medium heat while giving it an occasional stir. Finally came dried Italian seasoning, pepper and salt. Since I already had some cooked pasta at hand, I did not have to go through the trouble of boiling water and such. I finally added the pasta and then some Parmigiano for good measure.

And fluke voilà! The pasta was ready. The mister made a face when I announced “Pasta” for the evening but ultimately ended up loving the lighter, yummier version. In his defense, he pictured a marinara sauce and cheese soaked pasta. Who woulda thunk, eh?

Ps: The leaf, yes. So you clench the leaf between your teeth and pull it. What you will taste is a fresh, leafy treat that is sure make you fall in love with the tough vegetable. It sounded gross to me too in the beginning, rather like an experiment we would have done at five with neem leaves but this was so much better!

I couldn’t take pictures since my brain was jammed that day. I am sure to make it again, I’ll click a few decent ones then. Apologies!


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Summer, don’t go!

Dregs of Summer fading on my window...

Summer has not even decided to call it quits but I am already lamenting its end. The end of the season means more than low temperature. I dread the inevitable closet call I need to make. Remember the times when we did not have to worry about updating our wardrobe seasonally? Those days have passed for me.

When Spring dawned, bright and balmy this year, I uttered nothing less than an ecstatic shriek and packed my woolies in a drawer far, far away. I am pretty sure they smirked, obviously aware that I have to fall back on them… eventually. Spring passed, so did Summer, with me happily basking in the glory of tanks and shorts. While people cribbed about the hellish DC weather, I sang happily and ran around, savoring it. But who knew my tryst with the sun would end soon!

We are not done with the sunniness though. But I am a person of melodrama and pessimism. Hence, I moan though the weather people promise us at least a month more of this brilliance. Personally, hate layering. I admit that it seemed very exciting last year when it was all new and novel to me but the ordeal of packing my cottons and taking an inventory of things I have and need to buy is making me pretty dizzy here.

I comfort myself by thinking about the retail therapy it would involve. Until then, let me enjoy the sun while it lasts…


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A Year Full Of Wisdom-ish

As I contemplated what I could write about to add a little bit of dry humor to your day, I stumbled upon the title first. Some writers tell me that they make up a title before they decide on a topic but being the humble writer that I am, I have found that impossible… until now. After deciding whether it should be A or An, I moved on to what is going to be my second post this week.

So like I’ve been telling every single person who would stop and listen to me, it is going to be a landmark year in my wedded life soon: The Big One. Yes, though I basked in the glory of being a newly wed, I am kind of relieved, for what I call the year of surprises, is ending. As the calendar rolled, I learned a few tricks a person should learn about dealing with their other (obscure) half. I got pretty creative, no doubt, and used a few under-the-table tricks too but apart from the very disapproving housewife, I don’t see anyone else frowning on me. So here goes…

1. I have learned to be subtle. Blatantly telling a man what he needs to do only makes him as indignant as my dear dog Rover. If you layer it with reasoning and humor, he will see your point.

2. Never disclose your budget. If you spend even a cent more than you decided to, it will become his favorite family story for the years to come. How does he care if you can live healthier for a dollar more? Stealth: this is how.

3. Tell him he needs to shave and get a hair cut. Unless you are in love with the hilly-billy part of him, you need to emphasize on them, every month.

4. Don’t give up every time. Or don’t let him give up every time. He either thinks you are a doormat or selfish: two unattractive opinions for anyone to have on you.

5. Leave that saintly attitude out of the door. Really, this is not a church.

6. Make him read what you write, see what you paint and listen to what you create. Mine has the literary interest of an 8-year-old (he reads only Tinkle!) but I make sure he reads my blogs once in a while.

7. Deal with toilet seat issues. He leaves it up? Leave the seat and the cover down every time you go in. That will really reform him.

8. Get a detailed feedback about everything you cook. Chances are he will crib.Don’t bother, how else will you get better?

9. Make combined projects. We are making a random lamp together. It is fun!

10. Laugh. Hard. When we have a serious roadblock, we discuss it, look for a result or sit on it and later make a joke out of it. The problem doesn’t go away but it makes us feel it is not unsolvable. That easy!

PS: I broke my project rules by not publishing for two days. But I picked the most difficult week to go on it. I shall prevail!


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Fight Club-like Musings

There are really no rules to play by or live with, I gather. When you finally do all the growing up that qualifies you to take charge of your life, you are left bewildered at the lack of rules. At five, you learn to share everything with your sibling, at ten, you are taught the art of playing together with your friends. At fifteen, you understand that best friends are a bunch of people you never double-cross and at twenty, you realize that relationships require more work than your full-time job. It is only ironic that the people who teach you these values are adults who have grown up and learned the exact lesson I just did.

On a broader frame, I wonder where our rules relocated to. With friends, I learn that tough-love and betrayal are not only two ways of making you a better person but also a reason for your undying gratitude towards those meanies. Having been the recipient for the above-mentioned, I can tell you that you should risk it all only if you have a daredevil streak. Your relationship with them alters permanently even if their plan does work out.

You don’t have to necessarily marry the person you actually fell in love with, one of my friends informs, because love and happiness are two different things. What did happen to those days when we crooned sweet nothings like “you are my life, my happiness and everything between”? Corny, I know, but get the drift? The social derangement, cultural differences and temperamental parents are making more adults choose someone more compatible rather than someone they actually like and know as a human being. So every man/woman is expected to run around the street, yelling cynical monologues and is considered normal.

Family actually means nothing to some revamped rule-players. Actually, I have come across these creatures. They have a barrier and the first person who crosses it is ultimately cooked for dinner with less salt and overwhelming flavors, I am not joking. So people to whom they matter are set aside until they get cold and go on with life with bitterness. These people are considered “independent” and their doormat accomplices actually worship them!

So here I am, wondering how I should play because my rules are so out-dated that they are neither accepted, nor alive. At 26, I am too old to change my rules. I like my friends trustworthy, I prefer my love-filled marriage and I would never show anyone who matters, the exit door.


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Har-har

Call me delusional but I can hear my invisible audience laughing. Laughing hysterically at my total lack of ability to keep up my resolution. I did say I was going to write everyday, but in my defense, I have been swamped with other things like viral infections and non-blog writing.

The Atlanta trip was lovely, met friends, had cake, partied toddler style and ended up in Dulles very late on Sunday night to be greeted by incessant rains. The husband fell ill immediately (talk about weak resistance!) and I was busy pampering him for nearly a week. He is up and active now, thanks for asking.

But now, I am back on track, ready to write and give you, my invisible lovelies, something to scroll through. How does that sound?