Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels


2 Comments

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!

 

Advertisements


10 Comments

Coconutty Egg Korma

I have plans for you this weekend: you are going to make this flavorful egg Korma with coconut milk for dinner. It will pair well with rice, Naan, grits, pita bread, lavash, quinoa or any other bread/grain you can think of! It is crazy good and made me wonder what I had in me to make this out of the blue. I mean, I am bad at making things up as I cook.
Coconutty Egg KormaGrowing up, I’ve had my share of tasty egg Kormas. If I’ve already told you this story, please forgive me for repeating, because my parents’ egg Korma deserves unlimited mentions! I also have very happy memories associated with this dish because egg for dinner always meant we were all alone at home, with no extended family for company. In a household that used to frown upon cooking egg in the kitchen with normal everyday utensils, family time with Roti and egg Korma was a luxury we would always look forward to.

Fast-forward to slightly grown up days, I remember gobbling up hot egg Biriyani with Jan and my favorite cousin, S, in dimly-lit restaurants that specialized in Biriyani from everywhich state. Oh, the taste. Of warm rice induced with every Indian spice imaginable. The succulent grains of Basmati coated with the Masala and fresh cilantro, oh heaven!  I had eggs, coconut milk and other things in my pantry that could make super yummy food. So I made up my own recipe and this is what I ended up with-Coconutty Egg Korma2Coconutty Egg Korma

Ingredients:
Four eggs, boiled, skins peeled and halved

One big purple onion, finely sliced

Two big tomatoes, diced

Half a can coconut milk

One Tbsp ginger-garlic paste

Two Thai green chilies

One Tbsp Dania-Jeera/Coriander-Cumin Powder

One tsp turmeric powder

One tsp cayenne pepper powder

Salt

To temper-
One tsp mustard seeds

One sprig curry leaves (optional)

Quarter bunch cilantro finely chopped

Two Tbsp cooking oil

Method:
Heat the oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds and let it pop. Add the curry leaves and the sliced onions and saute on medium flame. When slightly brown, add the ginger garlic paste, chilies and tomato. Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook for five minutes on medium-low.

When the tomato turns mushy, add the Dania-Jeera powder, turmeric powder, cayenne pepper powder and salt. Let is cook for a few minutes, then add the coconut milk and one cup of water. Bring it to boil and switch it off. Don’t let the gravy boil for too long, it will change the taste of the coconut milk. The curry will thicken when you add the halved boiled eggs. Garnish with cilantro.

I think S will dig this gravy. I just have to find a way to make it and sneak it to her when I visit home this time…


16 Comments

Photography Styling Challenge- Patterns

Long long ago, in my second year of undergrad, we had photography exercises that spanned over a multiple everyday concepts. This was my syllabus’ way of creating “well-rounded” photographers and our professor would spend an awfully long time picking and selecting record book-worthy photos from the sea of rolls we would go through every week.
Needless to say, I would dread this process since photography, I decided, was not my cuppa. I was more the graphic designing kinda girl and I made sure the whole world knew this. Thankfully, things have changed. I have fallen hopelessly in love with photography and my humble but very beautiful camera. Every time I begin my journey for the monthly photography challenge, I always think back to that dreadful photography phase and kind of regret it.

My father was a wonderful photographer. Every frame he clicked would come alive in the sepia-toned postcard-sizes. Yet, he never had a formal portfolio, did not give professional photography a thought and his models all lived under the same roof- his. Being one of his primary muses, I have always felt honored (and secretly superior) to have had his beautiful vintage Pentax (an inheritance from his father, another amateur photographer) focused on me- a concept I am trying on my little girl, in an attempt to capture every little bit of this beautiful life we are living together.

So yes, this month’s photography challenge brought to me a sea of memories, some of them difficult and most of them very happy ones. Patterns: what does it bring to my mind? Life, that is what. But how does one go about photographing life? More specifically, how does one bring life to a subject like pattern? It was difficult so I decided to go with a couple of obvious subjects to focus on.
patternsThe first one is a picture of sticky buns I made a couple of months ago. I specifically clicked this picture with this exercise in mind. This is me being prepared like the little Girl Scout I was back in the day. Food can make pretty patterns, you see. But you’ve gotta look out for them.
patterns3The next thing that comes to my mind at the mention of patterns is knitting. My sister is a very enthusiastic knitter and she made this wonderful scallop patterned scarf for winter. It is the most beautiful piece I’ve ever owned and it makes me a proud sister whenever I wear it. You can read her blog here.
patterns2Although I wanted to go about clicking madly, I hardly had any time to do it. My goal for the next challenge is come up with at least four different concepts. I am pretty sure I can manage that.

So if you want to know more about the challenge, click here and you can see how others interpreted this subject by clicking on the following links to other participants:

Redesigned By M
At the Corner of Happy and Harried
Inge Kathleen Photography
My Food Tapestry
A Woven Life
City Girl Searching
A Tree Grows in the Bayou
I Live under a Rock Called Table Mountain
Hooked on Homes

I nearly forgot to tell you! I started another blog on a whim. Since it is still under development, I will tell you more about it later.


Leave a comment

Cooking with plantain

vazhakkai

If you have ever been to Puerto Rico or one of those very Caribbean/tropical countries, you might have seen bunches of green fruit hanging from the banana tree. More often than not, they would turn out to be the raw version of banana. If you wait a little longer and make sure the monkeys and birds don’t bite into them, these green beauties will one day turn into luscious yellow bananas that you can’t wait to take home and bake into a banana nut bread or something as exotic.

Photo Courtesy: The Produce Guide

Photo Courtesy: The Produce Guide (this is how uncooked raw-plantains look. Beautiful, no?)

To me, and many people from the tropics would agree, the best thing about banana is its raw form (though the Mexican fried ripe  plantain is something I love to eat!). In Puerto Rico, you might have tasted two wonderful dishes called Mofongo and Trifongo, which are primarily made from pounded raw bananas with pork or bacon. The meatless Mofongo is the closest you can get to a vegetarian dish in PR so the vegetarians in our group practically lived on it for all the four days when we visited the territory this summer. We had nothing to complain about because each restaurant had its own version which came with dipping sauce with ingredients ranging from pineapples to mayonnaise.

India is no different while dealing with plantains. We love it and use it extensively, especially in states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, the various versions of raw plantain is fried into chips, cooked, mashed and moulded into delicious sides. In Tamil Nadu, we make Kootu (ah, my saving grace), curry with freshly ground spices, sautes and even Sambar out of the raw banana. At home, Vazhakkai, as we call it in Tamil, is a special entity. The diabetics stay away from it due to its high sugar content. Hence, my mother would make it specially for my sister and me. Diabetes didn’t fray my dad’s passion for making chips from this beautiful vegetable. So on a few rare Sundays, we would find him frying huge batches of perfectly mandolined slices of plantain in a huge Kadai of oil that he would lovingly season with salt, cayenne pepper powder and asafoetida. Sigh…

Last night, I made the simplest of all dishes with this beautiful vegetable. The process was not very pretty so I decided to stay away from clicking pictures. The end product was this wonderful, mildly sweet, perfectly spiced, crunchy outside but soft inside dish I had planned to pair with rice but we ate without any accompaniment. Enjoy!

Vazhakkai Crunchy Curry

Ingredients:
Four medium-sized Raw plantains (You can find this in any multi-ethnic grocery store or the Indian store)

Two Tbsp gram or all-purpose flour

One Tbsp cornmeal

Half tsp cayenne pepper powder

A pinch asafoetida (optional)                              You could replace all the spices with curry powder and salt

One tsp turmeric powder

One tsp salt

Two Tbsp oil

Cumin seeds

Curry leaves (optional)

Method:
Cut the plantains in half and boil them in hot water for 11 minutes. When done and cool enough to handle, peal the skin like you would a banana and cut into thin rounds. For the marinade, mix the flour, cornmeal and the spices together with a few drops of water to make a thick, dry crumble. Add the plantain pieces to this mixture and make sure they are all well-coated.

Heat the oil in a pan, add the cumin seeds and the curry leaves. When they turn golden brown, add the marinaded plantains and any powder left in the container to the pan. Don’t saute. Turn the heat to medium and let them fry. You might be tempted to turn them just once but fight it. Turn the pieces after five minutes and you will understand why patience is a virtue. The sugar in the plantains would have caramelized and turned the curry golden. Let it go for ten minutes on the other side. Once done, the plantain pieces would have turned crisp, soft, perfectly cooked and other things I mentioned earlier. You can eat it just like that.

This can be served as a starter too. It can be grilled (only cut the plantain length-wise into thin pieces) and give it a pineapple glaze for a very tropical feel. First, you need to go find plantains to cook. Chop, chop!

vazhakkai2

 

Ps: the only banana tree I spotted in USA was in NOLA. I am sure there are many out there. I just need to keep my eyes open.


4 Comments

Jammin’

You know those random weird cravings you get sometimes? I had that a couple of days ago. For tomato jam. Not any ordinary tomato jam but my dad’s special stash that he used to make on very rare weekends. The last time he made it was a year before he passed and that batch is, well, long gone. This time, I decided to make some but I had a little problem: I did not know the recipe. I called my mother and she gave me a vague and very easy recipe. Though I was skeptical (sorry, Amma. Less sass from now, I promise), I decided to try it out. What could really go wrong with boiling tomatoes and sugar, really?

Nothing. So after an hour of letting it boil and splatter in a pan under a lid, I let it cool and gingerly scooped it with a spoon to taste. If it had been an Indian movie, nostalgic background music would have played. I would have had a montage of childhood scenes rolling on the screen. Instead, I let out a deep sigh and went back to the pan for more. Appa’s spirit was probably smiling down on me 🙂

Here is the short recipe

Ingredients:

Ten Roma tomatoes chopped

Two cups sugar

Two Tbsp lime juice

Method:

Saute the tomatoes until they start getting mushy. Stir in the sugar and lime juice. When the sugar dissolves, turn the heat to medium-low. Stir regularly as the mixture cooks and comes together into a jam-like consistency. As it thickens, the jam will splatter so closing the pan with a lid is the key, unless you want scotch marks all over your arms and a stick cook top.

*I used the tomatoes and two Tbsp of tomato paste for color.

*This makes a semi-solid jam.

*If you like it to be smooth, give the tomatoes a whirl in the blender before you transfer them to a pan.

This recipe can also be used for canning. The lime acts as a preservative.

This is nothing but a basic, unadulterated, tomato jam. It doesn’t have an underlay of other flavors or the kind of depth you expect exotic recipes to have. I can eat a whole jar in a week and come back for more. But I wont… I shall resist.

 


3 Comments

Southern Comfort

If you stumbled upon this blog post thinking it is about some novel American Southern food, you are in for a disappointment. But if you do stay and read on, you will discover that it is about as much a novel Indian Southern dish. We love it, though it is just one of those normal everyday dish back home which with a little bit of alteration, can play double duty. And at the end of this post, I promise to share a little story like I always do.

So Kootu is a little like the Greek lentil soup which we eat with rice, a side-dish (like the Okra Curry) and Thuvayal. The dish is sometimes seasoned with coconut and cumin. In some parts of South India, it is even cooked in tamarind. The North of India has its own version of Kootu called Dal. It is made with a combination of Dals (lentils), cooked and fried with Masala. That dish deserves its own post which I will post soon. Here is how I made the South Indian Kootu:

Ingredients:

One Chayote (or two carrots, half a head cauliflower or cabbage, a bunch of green beans or a combination of all of these) diced

One cup Toor Dal (from the Indian store or the Ethnic food section in your grocery store)

Couple of Serrano peppers

One and a half tsp Sambar powder (back to Indian store or I will post the recipe soon)

A pinch of pepper powder

Salt to taste

One tsp mustard seeds

One tsp Urad dal

Two Tbsp coconut (optional)

A pinch cumin powder

A pinch Asafoetida powder (optional)

Two Tbsp oil

Cilantro for garnishing

Method:

Add the lentils, veggies, salt, Sambar powder, peppers, salt and pepper powder to two cups of water. Cook them. In a pan, heat the oil, add the mustard seeds, when they crackle, add the Urad dal, Asafoetida, cumin powder and coconut. Fry a little and add the cooked mixture to the pan. Switch the stove off when it starts boiling. Garnish with cilantro.

So the story. During one of dad’s health-kicks, my mother used to make a small portion of Kootu every morning for his breakfast. He used to mix in a splash of soy sauce, couple of tsps of vinegar, some green chili sauce and eat it. One Saturday, I woke up early enough to catch him eating his breakfast and he gave me a spoon of the Kootu. It tasted so yummy that my mother had to pour me a bowl of it just to get me off my dad’s!

Try it, it is addictive.


1 Comment

A Quick Guacamole Press

This is probably not even a full-fledged post, I mean who doesn’t know to make good ‘ol Guacamole? Though a dip native to Mexico, it has found its way into the rest of the world. In fact, one of the best Guacamole I ever ate was at Don Pepe, Chennai. Actually, it was the first time I tasted this avocado-based dish.

A bit of history: Guacamole (also called Butter Fruit in India), in Aztec, means avocado Sauce.Nutrition-wise, avocados are filled with anti-oxidants, a good serving of vitamins, fibers and the good kind of fats. I have a funny story associated with Avocado which I will tell you at the end. So this is the first time I went creative with my Guacamole. I mean, I’ve always known that making the dip involves more than avocados, garlic, salt and pepper but I never really bothered to find out how it really is made.

I had a couple of Haas avocados, hence the research. Today, I went traditional: chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, couple of pods of crushed garlic, lime juice, cilantro, cayenne pepper and salt. The result was yummy and I figured it would have been a crime if I hadn’t shared with you. Luckily, I had a couple of tortillas in the pantry which I quickly cut up, sprayed oil on and baked it in a preheated 350 F (175 C) oven for 10 minutes.

What a yummy, healthy snack for the grey fall evening, reminiscing the honeymoon to Mexico, et al! So the story: on one of our annual traditional holidays to Kodaikanal with family, we spotted a couple of avocado stalls in the town. On our way back home from Kodai, my father, unable to resist the temptation to try something new, made a quick stop at the market to buy what the local natives called “butter fruit”. We didn’t know how to pick the best, so Amma followed the traditional method of veggie picking and selected the firmer ones… which is not how you select avocado. The fruit needs to be a little mushy.

We soon cut up the butter fruit, pitted it and ate the flesh: yuck! After forcing ourselves to eat one, we threw the rest of them out, rather reluctantly, since they were expensive… man, if only we had waited a few days more and made guacamole! So there, a rant, a recipe and a story… and I called this not a full-fledged post. Shockers.