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.

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