Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

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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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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.


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LH Goes Healthy… For A Day

Healthy eating, my gym trainer back in India used to point out everyday, is more vital than a strong work-out routine. I would give him a well-practiced nod and move on to my cardio exercise but today I concur. Honestly, I’ve never given unhealthy eating a chance in my life because I was never fond of fried snacks and such. But after the relocating, I found myself in charge of the kitchen and the menu and hence had to concoct a steady, wholesome food plan that would neither make anemia patients out of us nor send us off into a carb dizzy. Hence, apart from a rare fried-Appalum on the menu and a semi-occasional pizza night, we pretty much skipped the generally unavoidable binge eating schedules. This brings me to today.

Evening snacks are a part of our regime, when you have a hungry person coming home to you after a long day at work, you cannot help but make it a point to get something good ready for them to eat and today being Friday, I was in the mood to make something fun, light and delicious just to get the weekend going on the right track. So I had my guidelines laid out for me just because I love challenges:

I wanted to use up the fresh basil I grabbed from the store yesterday. Since Pasta is a complete no-no for an evening snack, I decided to make a sandwich. The last time fresh basil found its place in my pantry, I made Tomato-Moz-Basil sandwich hence, I eliminated it citing reputation. What is the most obvious but awesome dish you can make from basil? I made a pesto with cashew nuts.

Pesto, weirdly, is something I associate with Chennai. A regular patron of Anokhi’s Eco Cafe, the first thng that would welcome me at the store used to be the fresh green aroma of their pesto and feta sandwich. Though I did not know back then that it was basil’s perfume, I recognized it with joy after coming to US and started cooking with the herb.

Now, I know there are a gazillion methods and variants to making the basic pesto out of basil but I improvised mine from Giada’s method and here it is:

Ingredients:

A bunch basil

Quarter cup good extra-virgin olive oil

Three cloves of garlic

A hand full of cashew nuts

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Blend the basil, garlic, cashews, salt and pepper. Running the blender on its lowest speed, open the top of the container and slowly trickle in the olive oil until it is finely blended, else the oil will stand out.

After making the pesto, my obvious choices of ingredients for the sandwich were tomato and feta, both of which I had in my pantry. The tarty taste of tomato and the salty pungent taste of the cheese go artfully together with the pesto. The store-bought bread lounged beautifully on the counter top and I ended up not missing my bread.

Going back to my story, at Anokhi, their sandwiches were always served with a scanty side of fries. Since this only gave me the luxury to peck at them, today I wanted to go all out and serve a good portion of it. “Fried” is not a very healthy route so I decided to make healthy oven-baked potato chips. This recipe consumes less than 1/4th the amount of oil frying does and also lets me use the oven, so double yay!

Here is how I made the potato chips:

Ingredients:

3 medium-sized potatoes (I used Idaho since we love the bite the skin gives) washed and dried

Less than a quarter cup olive oil (or vegetable oil)

Generous amount of salt to sprinkle on top

A teaspoon dry Italian (or any other) seasoning

Method:

Using the slicer blade on a box grater, slice the potatoes into thin rings. Pat them dry thrice just to make sure you have extracted all the water from the vegetable. Turn the oven on to 375 F (190 C). 

Mix the oil and seasoning in a big bowl. Toss the potato slices to coat evenly. Line a


baking sheet with parchment paper (or i
n my case, aluminum foil) and spread the potato slices on a single layer. This may take up two baking sheets. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, bring it out, toss and bake again for 10 minutes. Make sure you peep in regularly to avoid the thinner slices from burning.

You can turn the oven to broil in the end for two minutes to get that golden-brown finish. Let the chips cool down. Sadly, my potatoes had a tad too much water content in them, thanks to American farming hence they turned out to be on the chewier side but if you find nice, firm taters, take advantage and make the chips!

The mister loved the unexpectedly wholesome snack and I enjoyed cooking up a party. Hence, I deem this a Win-Win situation!