Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Holi - the festival of Color!

Holi is a very important festival in India. It is celebrated sometime during March; and essentially brings the onset of summer (Spring is not very prominent in this part of the world). Holi is celebrated for two days, the second day is called Dhuleti. On Holi, a large fire is lit in the evening and various offerings are made to the fire - papad, popcorn, water, dates and so on. On Dhuleti, people play with color and water and there is a lot of fun and frolic involved. There are a number of reasons behind this festival; mythological, ecological and even psychological. With the help of my paternal grandmother Sudha Devi; I've managed to find out and log all the various reasons!

Mythological - the story is set in Ancient India. There was a great, but tyrant king - Hiranyakashyap; who was incredibly powerful. Unfortunately, the power went to his head and he wanted all his courtiers and people to pray to him instead of Lord Vishnu. Ironically; his son, Prahlad; was a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu, and simply refused to bend to his fathers wish. He went to the extent of telling Hiranyakashyap's followers that Lord Vishnu was the real God, and not Hiranyakashyap. The kings argument was that when people were hungry or were in need; it was him who they come to; Lord Vishnu couldn't do anything at such times.

Frustrated by his sons behavior, Hiranyakashyap attempted to kill Prahlad innumerable times; but to no avail. Finally; he devised an evil plan with his sister Holika.She had received a boon that she could not be burned. So, the two siblings decided that they would make a large fire and tell Prahlad to sit on Holika's lap right in the center of it. Prahlad agreed as he had complete faith in his lord. The boon did not work for Holika and she burned to death while Prahlad emerged without a scar. This is the reason for burning a fire on the day of Holi.

Ecological - the Holi fire is made out of cow dung and wood. Cow dung is known to be an antiseptic; the smoke caused from the fire kills all the germs and little insects in the atmosphere.

Psychological - the second day of Holi is called Dhuleti. This is the day when everyone plays with powdered color and water. Dhuleti is the day to wash away all the past misunderstandings and problems with your friends and family. It is also to welcome summer with joy. The reason behind playing with bright colors is because there are many emotions in life, and various colors represent those emotions.

In a similar manner, there are various tastes in life, and they represent the various emotions. That's why, one will eat all the different flavors on Holi - sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy.

Each family, and each region of India has there own way to combine these flavors into one. My family uses Gudd ka Bhaat and Dahi Vada to represent these flavors.

Gudd ka Bhaat

Ingredients -
  • 1 cup Rice
  • 3/4 cup Jaggery (gudd)
  • 3 cups Water
  • 1tbsp Ghee
  • 2 Cloves (long/laving)
  • 2 Cardamom (elaichi)
Melt the jaggery in the water and keep aside. Heat the ghee slightly and add the cloves and cardamom. Fry the rice in the ghee and spices for about a minute. Add the sugar mixture and allow to cook until the water has all been soaked and you have a sticky rice. Serve hot.

Dahi Vada

Ingredients -
  • 3/4 cup Mung dal
  • 1/4 cup Urad dal (white lentil)
  • 1 1/2 cup Yogurt (dahi)
  • 50 grams Tamarind (imli)
  • 50 grams Jaggery (gudd)
  • 3tbsp red Chili powder
  • 3tbsp Cumin 
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil for frying
Wash and soak the two dals for a couple of hours or even over night. Grind to a fine paste with a little bit of water. Form the batter into small balls and fry for a couple of minutes or until the vadas are cooked through. Dip each vada in some water for a couple of minutes and then squeeze out the water by placing a vada between your hands.

Soak the Tamarind in 1/2 cup of warm water for a couple of minutes and then strain to get a thick sauce.

Melt the jaggery in a pan with a few table spoons of water, add 1tbsp of chili powder to it.

Roast the cumin seeds till the oils in the spice release, and grind to a fine powder

Strain the yogurt so that it is smooth and creamy without any lumps.

Place the soaked vadas in a shallow bowl. Pour the yogurt on top. Then, pour the tamarind and jaggery sauce over the yogurt. Sprinkle the remaining chili powder and cumin powder. Serve cold.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Fried Potates and Sour Cream

This is one of my favorite meals. One may think that having such amounts of cream could be incredibly heavy, but the tartness from the lemon counters the richness of the cream.

I don't even require anything on the side when I have fried potatoes and sour cream! Although, you could serve it with roast chicken. That's what the family generally does.

Ingredients -
  • 4 medium sized Potatoes
  • 150ml cream, chilled
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Lemon juice
  • 2 Green Chilies, finely chopped
  • 1tbsp finely chopped Spring Onion
  • 1tsp Mixed Herbs (optional)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Oil, for deep frying
The trick to getting potatoes that are crisp on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside is to fry hot potatoes! So, boil and peel the potatoes and slice each one in half. Heat oil in a deep wok, fry the potato halves in batches of three or four; till they are lovely and golden on all sides.

Add the lemon juice to the cream and whisk until the cream forms hard peaks. Stir in the remaining ingredients.

Serve the hot potatoes with dollops of the cold cream.

Chinese Chews

These chewy cookies have been a favorite in my house since before I can remember. I don't know where the name came from; but it stuck. Chinese Chews are essentially dates and peanuts coated in a thin layer of batter and baked. Its the dates that add the chewy factor. These cookies are incredibly nutritious and just as yummy!

Ingredients -
  • 1 Egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup Flour
  • 2tbsp Sugar
  • 50g butter
  • 1 1/2 cups Dates, de-seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Peanuts, roasted and shelled
Beat the butter and sugar till it is light and fluffy. Add the egg, and fold in the flour. Mix the dates and peanuts into the batter; until everything is evenly mixed. It may seem like there isn't enough batter for the amount of dates and peanuts you are adding; trust me, its enough!

Evenly smooth out the mixture onto a greased baking pan. You could also make individual clusters. The layer should be about an inch thick. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 170C for about 15 minutes. Allow the Chinese Chews to cool completely and store in an airtight jar. Enjoy!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Tomato Basil Pasta

My mother lives in a land far far away called Timbaktu. Yes, Timbaktu. Although this Timbaktu is a village around a six hour drive away from Bangalore and is an NGO where my mother works as the project coordinator for the school. The Timbaktu Collective is a very intriguing place where lots of very interesting things are always happening. To know more about the Timbaktu Collective please visit: http://www.timbaktu.org/

The one thing that grows really well in my mother's garden is basil. So, as a result, it tends to be used in as many ways as it possibly can! This recipe of her's is one of the more luxurious meals you can get in a place like that and tastes good without the basil as well.

Ingredients -

  • 4 fistfuls (400g) Pasta of your choice
  • 1 large Onion, finely sliced
  • 8 medium sized Tomatoes, blanched
  • 1/4 cup Ketchup
  • 6-7 cloves Garlic
  • 3 dried Red Chillis, halved
  • 9-10 fresh Basil leaves, chopped
  • Spring Onion shoots, chopped
  • Cheese (optional)
  • Olive Oil (optional)
  • Herb Seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the pasta with a teaspoon full of oil and keep aside. The best way to make out if its done is to taste a piece!

Finely chop the blanched, skinned tomatoes and keep aside.

Heat oil (preferably olive oil) in a sauce pan and saute the garlic till it turns reddish pink. Add the chillies and stir about for a minute. Add the finely sliced onions and saute till they become transparent. Add the tomatoes and ketchup and cook for a while. Add any herb seasoning that you may have like oregano or Italian seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 5-6 minutes and if too thick add water till desired consistency is reached.

Add the chopped basil and spring onions and give it a quick stir. Pour over pasta and grate cheese on top before digging into this scrumptious meal! Serves: 4

Friday, 22 March 2013

Spinning Tomatoes

I have a rather large family; and it is close to impossible to get everyone together in one place. After I don't know how many years, we decided to go out for dinner a few days ago. My brother Ayush works at a restaurant called Spinning Tomatoes in Ahmedabad; and that's where we decided to go!

The restaurant has a rather interesting theme to it. They have tied up with the Spin Dance Academy, and have live dance performances every evening. The restaurant and academy are divided by large glass doors. And the diners can even look in on the dance rehearsals and practice! The restaurant was bustling with energy and it had a very good vibe to it. Although it was a Wednesday evening, it was practically full!

The only let down of the restaurant is that it is all vegetarian! That is why I was a little skeptical about it. Strangely, my views on vegetarian food are now slightly altered.

Considering the fact that all of us were rather hungry; we couldn't wait to order. For starters we called for Pizza Strips and the 3 Dip Platter. The Pizza Strips had a thin, crisp crust; and were topped with cheese, olives, red and yellow peppers and onion. The perfectly sized, delicious mouthfuls were well thought out of as they didn't have the monotony of a full pizza. The 3 Dip Platter was served on a wooden platter. There were three dips - hummus, tazazki and a fresh tomato salsa. The hummus was smooth and very delicately flavored. The tazazki was essentially creamy yoghurt with cucumber and mustard. Comparatively, the salsa wasn't that great, but it went well with the other dips. Crusty bread, carrot and cucumber sticks and pita bread crisps were also arranged on the platter. Aesthetically, the dish was incredibly appealing; and it tasted just as delicious!

Next came the main course, we had the Garden Skillet, Mexican Hot Pot and the Combination Cannelloni. The Garden Skillet was essentially a mix of vegetables in a strong pepper sauce. It was served with garlic bread which was the perfect accompaniment. The Mexican Hot Pot was served in foil, and was rice cooked in a tomato sauce with various interesting ingredients thrown in. The Combination Cannelloni was pasta stuffed with cottage cheese and spinach. It was covered with a cheese and tomato sauce. Absolutely delicious. The spinach had a bright green color which I considered to be very appealing; but my brother Joy thought it to be a bit on the gory side. Well each to his own I suppose!

The Dessert Skillet was served on a platter. A variety of delicious treats - chocolate eclairs, chocolate mousse, a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, a scoop of chocolate ice-cream and an amazingly fresh chocolate cake. The entire platter had been drizzled over with a generous helping of chocolate sauce. Truly decadent!

By the end of the evening, I was stuffed till my ears. I could barely breathe. This place has definitely changed my opinion on vegetarian food. I'm definitely going there again to try out everything on the menu!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Ham and Cheese Quiche

Quiche is something we've been making at home ever since I can remember. Or probably I remember it so clearly because the whole house smells mouth watering if there's quiche in the oven!

The vegetarian version of this recipe saved my life during my Xth standard home science practical board exam!

The only real tricky part to making a good quiche is getting the pastry right. Therefore this recipe has two parts to it. First, the pastry and then, the incredibly easy quiche.

Ingredients -

  • 150g Flour
  • 3 Tablespoon Oil
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • Ice Cold Water
Mix the flour salt and sugar in a bowl. Add oil little bit at a time and using two forks to toss until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Now slowly add cold water and continue to mix until the dough just about comes together. Do not over mix!

Wrap it in cling film and flatten to a disc 1 cm thick. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or until firm.

Roll out the dough as then and evenly as possible and line your pie dish. Trim the edges. 

Using the pointy end of a fork, poke small holes in the pastry so that air doesn't get trapped between the pie dish and the pastry.

This same pastry is used for pies, tarts, quiche etc.

Quiche Filling
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 Cup Cheese
  • 1/3 Cup Milk
  • 100g Ham, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp Cream (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Beat the eggs till they're a little fluffy. Add the remaining ingredients and gently mix together to keep the fluffiness of the beaten eggs. Add salt and pepper and pour into the pie dish.

Bake at 170C for 20 minutes.

Vegetable Pulao

This pulao is slightly different from the normal. That's because the ratio of rice to vegetables is 1:3! This may seem like a lot, but it is incredibly tasty; and the perfect way to eat healthy.

We eat this dish at least twice a week. It is simple to make and hardly takes half an hour from start to finish! The best part about it is that you don't even need any additional curry or gravy with it! It has more than enough flavor on it's own.

Ingredients -
  • 2 large Onions, sliced
  • 1 cup Peas
  • 1 cup Cauliflower florets
  • 1 cup Carrot, diced
  • 10-15 cloves Garlic, peeled and bashed with a stone
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 2 inch stick Cinnamon
  • 2 green Cardamom
  • 2 black Cardamom
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1/2tsp Cumin powder
  • 1/2tsp Coriander powder
  • 1tsp red Chili powder
  • 3tbsp Oil
  • 1 cup Rice (any long grained rice would do)
  • 2 cups Water
Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan. Add the garlic, cloves, cinnamon, green cardamom, black cardamom and bay leaves; fry till the spices are fragrant and the garlic is slightly browned. Throw the onions in and fry till they are golden. Add the cauliflower and carrot; saute for a couple of minutes.

Wash the rice thoroughly and add to the vegetables. Pour the water and sprinkle the remaining spices on top. Stir till everything is evenly mixed. Put a lid on the pan and allow the rice to simmer on a low heat for about ten minutes. Now, add the peas and stir the rice once more. Cover and cook for a further ten minutes or till the water has evaporated and the rice is cooked through.