Idli for President!

The first 20 years of my life, I hated idli. Oh, for my international readers, this is idli. Idli is to a south Indian what toast is to most Caucasians. Anyway, I hated it. What’s there to like – it’s bland, it’s a boring white, it’s not crispy, there’s no oil involved! Boh-ring!

And then I got a job and moved cities. From home, I went straight to this city called Hyderabad where the nearest idli was at least 20 km from where I lived. When you’re a single girl, on your own in a big city for the first time, dependent on public transport, it might as well have been 2000 km. For almost a year, I didn’t eat good idli. The ones I did eat were not even in the same food group as idli. I missed the buggers!

Then wedding happened. And hey, my mother bought me this wet grinder to make my very own batter and all my idli fantasies took flight again. Heaven.

Without further ado, here’s my idli journal. These were made in the course of the last month or so. See. And enjoy.

Idli, with Sambar and chutney. The Holy Grail of South Indian breakfast.

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Idli, with Chicken curry. Typical breakfast fare in a Telugu household when the son-in-law is visiting.

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Idli, with Peanut chutney. This is my childhood, at my maternal grandmother’s house, on a plate.

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Idli, with Pappulusu. Rayalseema fare. Comfort food when you miss Mommy.

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Idli, with Kurma. This is my humble idli making the most of a parotta-chapati invasion from the North.

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Idli, with Kumbakonam kadapa. Native of Tamilnadu but very joyously adopted into a Telugu household!

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Idli, made with oats, with Tomato pachadi. This is my idli adapting to the health conscious 21st century.

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These are just the ones I made and had the patience to take a photo of before stuffing my face. There are countless other accompaniments and variations of the idli, it’s actually ridiculous.

So, let’s raise a mug of sambar and a spoon of chutney to this most humble, unassuming of breakfasts – to the humble idli, which let’s the accompaniment take all the credit, while silently being the rock (not literally, mind you) on which they all flow.

Idli for President!

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Weekend baking: Blueberry Challah bread

We all have our ways of stress busting, after a long tiresome week at the office. Some of us travel, or watch movies..or the weird few do extra rounds of exercise (never understood these fellows, no). My stress busters are the 2 Bs – books and baking. (I just made that up about the 2 Bs. What coincidence!)

Ever since the Kindle came into my life, there’s been a definite increase in the number of books I read every week/month. Likewise, ever since I figured out the convection mode in my microwave oven, baking sessions have increased manifold! Yes, I’m one of those schmucks who didn’t know about the convection mode in the oven for the first 6 years of owning the oven. But now that I HAVE figured it out – oh, what joy! For the husband too, mind you.

Now, I’ve baked enough cakes to feel moderately confident of the whole thing – I even baked some for the folks at work and it turned out ok. But bread? No sire, not yet. When my husband oohed and aahed on the cakes and called me a ‘baker’ I told him I won’t consider myself good at baking unless I can bake bread. That’s how big a deal it was to me.

The first bread I baked was a fiasco, so I no longer consider it my first bread. It was an attempt at baking a rosemary-garlic focaccia bread and it was disastrous (the bread was so hard I could’ve used it for a ping-pong bat). I like to think it was because of the bad quality of the yeast (and not because I didn’t follow the recipe to a T) and that’s how I learnt by first lesson in baking – make sure you have good ingredients. It makes all the difference in the world.

I got my current batch of yeast from my MIL who in turn had got it from the US, courtesy my bro-in-law.

This year's loot from the in-laws' place, courtesy mom-in-law

My second bread.. I mean, my first proper bread was a Rosemary Olive Oil bread, based on this recipe. It was a thing of beauty, if I may say so myself! It came out exactly how it was supposed to – the smell, the texture and the taste! That’s when I realized how utterly satisfying baking can be (the downside being how awfully disappointed one can get if the attempt bombs).

Rosemary Olive oil bread, in the oven!

Not bad, eh? So after that confidence booster of a loaf, I was bold enough to try something a wee bit more complicated (or so I’d like to imagine). A challah, or a Jewish egg bread. I’ve never had it before and the first time I even heard of it was 3-4 days back. Apparently, it’s a lot like a brioche (again, never tasted it but heard a lot about it on cookery shows on TV), but uses oil instead of the butter. This is probably a good time to mention that I only bake using recipes that do not involve butter. I have such an aversion to using butter in my cakes/bread! It probably stems from the fact that I’m not supposed to have any butter given my physical dynamics and dimensions. So rest assured, any cake or bread I bake will be butter free. Just like any pasta I make will be cheese-free (yeah, go figure).

So..on to the challah. I followed the very precise recipe given on Smitten Kitchen for an Apple and Honey challah. I didn’t have any apples or raisins, so I went with re-hydrated blueberries instead.

How did it turn out? How do you think – see for yourself!

Blueberry challah, fresh off the oven!

It tasted out of this world! The texture was soft and airy, the bread not too sweet and not too bland.. in short, perfection.  My husband thinks I have a back-up profession in case I get sick and tired of software engineering. I tried telling him it’s just 2 breads, 1 batch of muffins and 9-10 cakes (2 of which were eaten off the oven floor) that I’ve baked till date, but you know what they say about love being blind, deaf and plain dumb.

The bread practically makes itself if you follow the recipe diligently. Given my bad experiences with the finicky yeast, I tend to be extra cautious in the measurements and try and stick to the recipe as much as I can. And it helps! So at least till I’m confident enough to try out more variations, the recipes will be my gospel.

Had the bread for last night’s dinner, with a Vodka cream pasta (recipe by Rachel Ray). Yummeh!

Now that I’ve slowly started logging back into WordPress to look after my poor little bloggies, expect more of my baking adventures on this space. The good ones and the bad ones.

Kitchen tales

Ingredients

Whole Moong Dal – 2 cups

To be ground together –
Ginger-Garlic paste – 2 tablespoons
Coconut (grated or chopped) – 1/2 cup
Red chillies – 4-5 medium sized ones

For tadka –
Coconut Oil
Mustard seeds
Urad dal (optional)
Curry leaves

Method –

Boil the whole moong dal in a pressure cooker till it’s cooked, but not over-cooked (not mashed). After it cools down a bit, mix it with the ground paste of ginger-garlic/coconut/red chillies. Keep aside.

Heat the kadai and add the tadka ingredients. When the mustard starts spluttering, add the urad dal. Adding curry leaves now would take away the aroma and leave the leaves burnt, so keep it for later.

Toss in the moong dal mixed with the spices. Add salt to taste and the curry leaves. Cook till the raw smell of ginger-garlic goes away.

A slight variation could be to sprinkle grated coconut instead of grinding it with the other spices towards the end.

Wondering why my blog is suddenly hosting recipes, given the fact that I’m no great shakes in the kitchen? Well, read on.

Now take the prepared curry above and place it in a clean bowl on your serving side of the kitchen. In my kitchen, I’m currently facing a crazy problem of red ants that miraculously appear near anything that even closely resembles food. Return after 20-30 minutes and see that this moong dal fry is NOT inhabited by ants, while the chapatis in the hotpack (or whatever you call ’em dishes that’s supposed to keep food hot) have an ever-growing line of industrious li’l buggers resolutely getting in.

I’ve convinced myself it’s because of the chillies and the ginger-garlic. It has nothing to do with my cooking ability. Absolutely nothing. Ok?

And woe to ye, if you hint at it.

The Noodle Revolution, 1980s-2007

Maggi Noodles. Synonymous with a lot of memories, mostly from times when one was too lazy to cook but too hungry not to eat? Those childhood times when Maggi was the THE snack of all times? How your mother scolds you that you serve Maggi for breakfast? Umm, no? Ok, maybe the last one is just me. Nevertheless, would be hard to find an Indian (or as Wiki tells me, a Singaporean, Malayasian, New Zealander or Aussie) who hasn’t had Maggi in their lives. If you’re below 60 years of age, that is. Somehow, old people and noodles just don’t get along. And that’s a brilliant idea for a next blog post. Oh, did I just say that aloud?
Why talk about Maggi now? Because I’m hugely hugely impressed by how innovative the blokes at Nestle are! They’ve just introduced Maggi Rice noodles!! After the regular noodles, the wheat flour (atta) noodles, now rice! Natural progression, one could say. And something that makes a lot of sense.

I’m a big fan of Maggi noodles. I still remember fighting for one extra strand of noodles with my brother (who, after punching me, would graciously offer me two, thereby making me look like the bad person in front of my mother, not to mention a complete glutton for noodles). How I used to cycle the 400m to the nearby shop to buy noodles and pester mom to make it for me before my brother comes. Ok, my brother is always a part of the noodle story ‘coz, seriously, I HAVE fought that many times. Yes, I make a lousy sister. And no, I’m not so now. Happy? Those were times when I had just learnt cycling, so no matter what the distance, it was always my trusted BSA SLR. Even if it was to my friend’s who lived, hold your breath, two doors away! I mean, two whole doors! Can you believe that?

Ok, umm, back to noodles. Back then, there was just veggie, chicken and tomato flavors, and we used to be such devoted fans of the veggie flavor. If my mother had the patience and the time, she would make it extra special by adding real veggies and it would look like the picture on top of the cover! Ah, those were good times. Then came a lot of flavors that didnt quite click (Chatpata, if I remember correctly), and I think there was one which was supposed to be like noodles in soup.

The marketing for Maggi has always been very sensible. Their ‘2 minute’ tag line was very appealing for mothers and kids alike – mothers needn’t spend precious time in the kitchen again and kids can make an entire project out of it! Let’s face it, for a lot of us, the first dish we ever made in the kitchen (and for some, the only dish we can make in the kitchen even now) is Maggi noodles. If you were exceptionally talented, you would’ve made an omlette already, but hey, for regular people like me, it was noodles. Ok, I’m sorry my mind is so tangential, this post is still about noodles, noodles and just noodles.

The popularity of Maggi stems from the fact that it made noodles easy and non-messy. Though it neither tastes nor looks like the authentic chinese noodles, it is very much an accepted type of ‘noodles’. So much so, I’ve seen restaurants serve ‘Maggi noodles’ next to the other regular Chinese/Conti dishes.

As to the catalyst of this post, Maggi Rice Noodles – available in 3 flavors: Shahi Pulao, Chilly Chow and Lemon. Take my advice, the last two suck big time – even more than Maggi Dal Atta noodles (which was banned from my kitchen after I couldn’t finish even half a plate of it, even when I hadn’t eaten all day). Shahi Pulao is just about palatable. Which made me realize that nothing compares to the original no-nonsense, no frills, regular good ol’ Maggi Vegetable Noodles.

Sambhar Snippets


I’ll let you guys in on a small secret – my most profound thoughts come to me when I’m standing in front of my stove, waiting for the oil to heat up before I add the mustard for the sambhar’s tadka. Believe it or not, the biggest test for your patience occurs at that time – the oil has to be hot so the mustard pops and gives an aroma, but it shouldn’t be too hot that it burns the mustard (then you end up with bitter seeds all over your sambhar). For someone who starts making dinner at 9:00 PM, those 2 odd minutes in front of the stove, waiting for the oil to heat up, feels like an eternity (‘coz you’re hungry enough to eat wood, but then since you’re not a woodpecker, doesn’t help at all. BTW, I know a woodpecker doesn’t ‘eat’ wood, it just pecks at it. Jus’ go with my flow, will ya, and stop analysing!). And that is when the mind wanders.

The wandering mind shalt return when the mustard is burnt. Yes, that’s like a law. Lucky for me, it wasn’t all that burnt (and no, you cannot go ask my husband if that is true). I got all the stuff from the fridge that needs to go into the sambhar and kept it all ready. And then…

Now, did you know that I’ve digressed from my original topic so much that the topic discussed on digression feels like the main topic? Go scroll back, read the first line and come back, I’ll wait.

(Took you this long to read one line?) Right, what was that oh-so-profound thought, you ask? In those quiet moments of desperation, I realized that I first need to cook the dal before I make the tadka for the sambhar. **runs to hide before someone comes**

Thursday Tortures, this one. You’re most welcome. 🙂

Image Source: Yummy sambhar-vada isn’t it? Me yet to have lunch 😉

A recipe for cold

Alert: Please ignore this entry – this is purely for my ‘saving-someplace-handy’ purposes. I’m tired of saving notepad files and then forgetting where I saved them. I’m also tired of sending it as email to myself (how pathetic!) and then forgetting to which folder I moved it. I’m even more tired of taking printouts and losing it in the Mt.Everest-y pile of paper (read: crap) that I have on my desk.

This is a recipe that my mom gave me when hubbie had a severe bout of the oh-so-common cold. I’m going to try this out over the weekend, so till then I need the recipe to be available ‘somewhere’!

So here goes…

Ingredients:
To fry and powder finely
Dried chilli – 3
Black pepper – 1 tbsp
Urad dal – 1 tsp (Tamil – ulutham paruppu, Telugu – Uddi pappu, Mallu – no idea!)

Curry leaves – a handful (Tamil – karivepilai, Telugu – karivepaaku, Mallu – Karivepila)
Salt – to taste
Tamarind – a small ball (Tamil – puli, Telugu – chinthapandu, Mallu – puli)

Tadka
Mustard (kadugu, aavalu, kadugu)
Turmeric (manjal thool, pasupu podi, manjal)
Asafoetida (perungaayam, inguva, no idea)

How to?
Powder the items-to-be-powdered. To this add the curry leaves, salt, tamarind and a bit of water – grind this to a smooth paste.

Take oil in a kadai, add mustard, turmeric and asafoetida. Add the ground paste to this and cook on low flame till the oil seperates and comes to the top. (Something like your ‘pulikaichal’ consistency – that paste thing you add for tamarind rice)

Done!

To be had with rice. If you’re like me, you can have it with idli, dosa..anything!

I don’t know how this will taste (I can guess it will be ‘kaaram’ looking at the first 2 ingredients). I can try it out and let you all know on Monday. Till then..you can try it at your own risk 🙂