Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Homemade Sambar Powder

My school bus stop was over a mile away from my house.  We used to walk in a group to the bus stop to catch the bus.  The early morning walks through the serene landscape were therapeutic.  The rising sun with crimson orange rays gazing the wet blades of the grass, the heavy clouds of fog trying to sediment over the rice fields, the flock of tiny sparrows flying over the fields to get a little scoop of grains, the little ducklings following their mom in the clear stream by the side of the road were some of the aesthetics of the landscape we enjoyed on our way to the bus stop.  The walk back to home from the bus stop was always faster; it was more like a run to escape the heat from the afternoon sun to quench the thirst and hunger.  Most of the time when I come back home, the house will be filled with the aroma of freshly fried banana fritters or lentil fritters.  Occasionally the strong smell of dry roasted spices makes its way to us at least few blocks away from home.  Chili powder and Coriander powder were made in big batches with the help of others.  Other strong spice blends were made by my mom.  No spice blends or curry powders were bought from store.  The dry spices were bought from the market, cleaned, sun dried, dry roasted and finally grounded and stored.  The aroma of the homemade spice blends were so strong that their aroma lingers in the house for at least couple of days.  The freshness and goodness of homemade spice blends could never be replicated in a store bought curry powder.

Recently I decided to give a try on some of the spice blends and here I am with the sambar powder.  I made only a small batch to test the freshness and taste difference.  I was really impressed how it tasted in the sambar and thought to share with you.  Its far way better than the store bought preservatives loaded spice blends.  Lately there were some allegations on some of the leading brands of spices for adulteration.  If we can make all these at home why bother to spend money on a chemical filled product.  I think that’s ample enough reasons to start making your own spice blends.  Give this sambar powder recipe a try and let me know how it turns out for you.

1 cup - coriander seeds
1 cup - dried chili mix (Kashmiri & hot chili)
1/2 cup - Chana daal
1/2 tsp - cumin seeds
1 tbsp - fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp - black peppercorns
1/2 cup - curry leaves
2 tbsp - turmeric powder
1 tbsp - kashmiri chili powder
1 tbsp - freshly ground asafoetida powder

  • Dry roast coriander seeds, chana daal and chili separately till the roasted aroma comes in a wok.
  • Dry roast cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, peppercorns and curry leaves together on low flame till the curry leaves are roasted well.
  • Roast the kashmiri powder on low heat for 2 minutes till the raw smell is gone.
  • Let all the ingredients cool down completely.  Grind the spices into a fine powder.  Finally mix the turmeric powder, Kashmiri chili powder and asafoetida powder to it.
  • Store the sambar powder in a labeled air tight container.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Butternut Squash Boats

We are past a week in the Lent season and I am scratching my head to come up with new vegetarian items to appease my whole family.  I and my husband can live on steamed veggies and grains, but when it comes to my kids, I have to be cautious around those picky eaters.

While growing up in Kerala, I never felt a difference during Lent season as my Mom used to cook variety of vegetarian dishes and there were many options to choose from.  I miss those authentic Keralite dishes.  My grandma used to whip up a lip smacking dish from anything she founds in her backyard garden.  Nothing seemed to be wasted, the seeds, the skin, the flesh you name it were put into use.  The unused parts of vegetables used to go into the compost pit which makes its way to the produce in the garden as fertilizers.  I always wished to have a compost maker in my backyard.  I have to think seriously to at least compost the vegetarian waste and use it in my garden in summer.

Do you waste lot of food?  Lately I am diligent in making use of all the items I shop from grocery store.  I almost made my daughter promise to not waste her lunch that I pack for her school.  It feels good when you can make a small difference and influence your family.  I strongly believe that the 'Change has to begin in yourself before you can correct anyone else'.  Hope we can together make a difference by making a change in ourselves and influencing others.

I wanted to make use of the butternut squash and the buck wheat that was sitting in my pantry for some time.  Kids were at school and both of us were home that day and I had to do an easy lunch fix for us.  We enjoyed the spicy butternut squash boats that were surprisingly delicious and filling at the same time.  You can be creative about the filling that you add in the squash boat.  Both sweet and spicy filling can be used and limitation is just your imagination.  So go wear your apron and make a piquant Butternut squash boat!

Butternut squash - halved and seeded
1 cup - multi-color baby potatoes washed and cut into halves
salt and ground pepper to taste
oil to brush
1/3 cup - buck wheat washed and drained
2/3 cup - water/vegetable broth
1 sprig - green onions chopped
2 cloves - garlic minced

1/4 cup - onion chopped
1/4 cup - fresh cilantro chopped
1/2 tsp - ground pepper
1/2 tsp - Cajun seasoning
1 tsp - oil
salt to taste
1/2 cup - Mexican cheese blend

  • Pre-heat oven to 400°F.
  • Brush the cut side of the butter nut squash with oil and place it on the baking sheet with cut side facing up.  Lay the cut baby potatoes on one side of the baking sheet and drizzle some oil.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the cut squash and potatoes.  Bake it for 30 minutes.
  • Once the squash cools down for 10 minutes, use a sharp knife to make lining on the baked squash; carefully either scoop out the flesh or cut it into squares as shown above in the picture and separate it out using the knife without tearing the skin of the squash.
  • Cook the buckwheat with water/vegetable broth.  Simmer the flame once the liquid boils and cover with the lid and cook till the grains are fluffy and cooked well.
  • Heat a pan with 1 tsp of oil and cook the minced garlic, onion till light brown.  Add the chopped green onions, pepper powder, Cajun mix and saute till raw smell is gone.  Add the cooked buck wheat, scooped out butter nut squash flesh/cubes and the potatoes.  Mix well and adjust the seasoning per your taste.  Add the cilantro leaves and turn off the flame.
  • Fill the squash boats with the filling mix.  Top them with the cheese blend.  Bake it for 5 to 10 minutes till the cheese is melted.  Serve them warm with a side of the rest of the filling.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Kale Moong Daal Stir Fry/Kale Moong Daal Thoran

It’s been over a month I have blogged.  One of my friends joked to me that she cannot cook anything now a days since I am not posting anything.  Let me thank all my friends who cared for my absence from fb and my blog.  I am blessed to have surrounded by friends like you.  Thanks for your constant support and motivation!

I want to share something I had been making for a long time.  I am not sure why it took so long for me to post this.  The vegetable section of grocery stores have the best technique to keep them crisp by misting them with water and they seem to be triggered by sensors to allure the customer.  Anyways whenever I pass the vegetable aisle of the grocery store, these fresh bunches of greens entice me to pick one of them.  Most of the time I pick Kale over collard green as they are sweeter in taste than collard greens.  Kale being a super food, it’s ok to include them in salads or eat by itself.  What if you can enhance the nutrition of Kale by adding some meatless protein like lentils when you want a pure vegetarian dish?  Since the Great Lent is commencing next week, I thought this is the apt time to share this recipe for those who cares for vegetarian dish.

The Kale and Moong daal stir fry is prepared in Kerala style which incorporates some inevitable ingredients like freshly grated coconut, curry leaves and coconut oil.  These ingredients impart a very unique flavor that transports you back to home.  My family loves this stir fry with plain rice and a side of thick yogurt.  Do try this simple recipe and let me know how it turns out for you.
3 cups - finely chopped fresh Kale
3-4 - chopped green chilies
1 cup - onion finely chopped
1 cup - fresh/frozen shredded coconut
1/2 tsp - turmeric powder
1 clove - garlic
1/4 tsp - mustard seeds
2 tsp - oil
1/4 cup - Moong daal
1/2 cup - water
2 sprigs - fresh curry leaves
1 tsp - coconut oil to garnish
salt to taste

  • Wash the moong daal and add 1/2 cup of water to it. Cook it on very low flame with a pinch of salt till all the water is absorbed and the daal is cooked.
  • Pulse the garlic, shredded coconut and turmeric powder in  food processor or mix them well with a pestle and mortar.
  • In a wok or non-stick pan, add 2 tsp of oil and splutter the mustard seeds.  Add the onions, green chili and cook till the onions are translucent.  
  • Now add the chopped kale and salt; mix well.  Give a minute for the kale to wilt a bit.  Make a well in the center and add the coconut mix and cooked moong daal.
  • Cover the well with the kale from the sides and cook on low heat for 1 to 3 minutes.  Mix everything well.  Adjust the salt and add the curry leaves.
  • Turn off the flame and add the coconut oil.  Enjoy the Kale Moong daal stir fry with steaming hot plain rice and a side of tempered yogurt or plain yogurt.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Lemon Cupcakes With Lemon Cream Cheese Whipped Cream Frosting


Every Mom's wish is that her kid stays young all the time.  Every child’s dream is to become grown up soon so that they don't have to go to school and start working.  Moms are wired with more emotions.  Her worries never ends.  As the kids grow the concerns grows along with them.  When you hear the scary stories or some prank threats that happens at school, you wish your kid was a baby so that you are in charge of his/her safety.  It feels like they grow so fast within a blink of eye especially when you take a glimpse of their baby pictures.

Every year I bake a birthday cake for my daughter and have a small birthday party with her friends.  We bake together some cupcakes for her class too.  This year her birthday happened to be on Sunday and we celebrated with her friends at church.  Her birthday cake was a 3 layered simple Vanilla cake moistened with orange marmalade and simple syrup.  These cakes had strawberry preserve and whipped cream filling with some strawberry decorations.  It was a simple cake with a light frosting that was appeasing to everyone’s palate. 

We made lemon cupcakes for her class and frosted them with Lemon Cream Cheese Whipped Cream Frosting.  I am so passionate about experimenting with different frosting that can hold shapes.  I like to stay away from over sweetened frosting if possible.  Hence whipped cream frosting and Swiss Meringue butter cream frosting are my favorites.  This time, I experimented with something other than Swiss Meringue butter cream for the cupcake frosting and it was an instant hit.  It is light and fluffy as whipped cream and silky as Swiss Meringue butter cream.  The best part is that even though it is an airy and low sweet frosting you could pipe it so well.  I was so excited to pipe away some rosettes on the cupcakes.   

My daughter is a fan of citrus flavor, so she preferred a lemon flavor.  The lemon flavor worked well with the cream cheese whipped cream frosting.  I highly recommend you to try this frosting.  The frosting was so stable that the rosettes retained their shape even when left at room temperature for some time.   I can be prolix with the savor of this frosting.  But I am leaving it up to you to try and decide.
Here are some pictures of her birthday cake.  Excuse the low lighting in this picture that diminished the quality of the shots.
Vanilla cake layer moistened with orange marmalade and simple syrup.
Second layer is the whipped cream frosting stabilized with meringue powder and confectioners sugar.
Top view of the cake with some fresh strawberry decoration and edible pearls.
A slice from the additional cake I made for her birthday that had just 2 layers.

Yields - frosting enough for 24 lemon cupcakes
2 (8 oz) - plain cream cheese at room temperature
1 1/2 cup - confectioner/powdered sugar sifted
1 tbsp - fresh lemon juice
2 drops - pure lemon extract/pure lemon essential oil
yellow gel color to tint

1 1/4 cup - full fat fresh whipping cream (keep refrigerated till ready to use)
4 tbsp - confectioner/powdered sugar
1/2 tsp - meringue powder

  • In a clean bowl of the stand mixer, beat the cream cheese till smooth with the paddle attachment.  Add 1 tbsp of lemon juice and beat well.
  • Add batches of sifted confectioner's sugar and beat till incorporated.
  • Add the gel color per your requirement and beta well.  Transfer the smooth cream cheese mix to a big mixing bowl and keep it aside.
  • Clean the mixing bowl of stand mixer and wipe it dry.  Add the cold whipping cream, powdered sugar and meringue and beat on low speed with whipping attachment for 10 seconds. Increase the speed to the highest and whip till stiff peaks are attained.  Watch carefully not to over beat the whipping cream which will deflate the cream.
  • Add a dollop of the whipped cream into the cream cheese frosting and use a rubber spatula to fold in.  Repeat the step carefully till all the whipped cream is mixed with cream cheese and no streaks of white are seen.  You can also use a wire whisk to do this step.  Just be careful not to deflate the whipped cream.
  • You frosting is ready to be piped.  Transfer them into a piping bag with the desired tip and decorate the cake(s).
  • I piped double layer of rosettes on the cupcake.
  • Adding the meringue powder stabilizes the whip cream.
  • Make sure not to over beat the whipped cream when mixing it with cream cheese frosting.
  • You can use any fruity flavor with this frosting.

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