Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The God of simple food: Dosai

The Dosai or the Indian Rice Pancakes (Indisches Reispfannkuchen) is one of the most important innovations that has been probably passed down since the time of cooking itself. Rice and lentils were in abundance in ancient India (oh, so it is now, take a look at 1kg for 1 Rupee :P) and so one can only imagine how the magnificent dosai came into existence. Living in India with parents, we always look upon dosai as the tasty miracle conjured by mothers in an attempt to fulfill the undying appetite. Mothers are kind and they would propose that we should eat them hot as soon as she prepares and that would only after sometime lead to frustrated looks and the statement that she needs to have the batter to feed others in the family! But the moment we guys move away from dear India (only to miss India more), we start to miss dosai. Yes, the lucky ones in America have Saravana Bhavan, but in Europe, Indian food is always the North Indian Punjabi cuisine. I have absolutely nothing against it, just an observation! And yes, we start to crave for the simple yet godly dosai.

For quite some years (4 to be precise), I have never attempted to may my own dosai. I have of course purchased the instant MRT dosai mix and scribbled away on the pan, making no where near round dosai and feeling proud that I have still not grown up. But as craving increase, one has to step up. Unless you take care about yourself, no one else is going to! So I began my dosai making and frankly, I have never felt so happy and satisfied. And oh, it is simple. Long live Bachelors !!!

Break the rules or Strictly No Rules (Thala!!!!!). I have made dosai with (a) Raw rice (b) Par boiled rice and (c) Basmati rice. And I have not let the batter ferment for a few hours. But still, the dosai is as tasty as it can get!! 

Rice ( par boiled/raw/basmati) - 2 cups
Urad dhal - 1/4 cup
Fenugreek seeds (optional) - count of 5 to 10 (just a little little, I like a strong flavor and so I added one table spoon)

Soak the Rice, Urad dhal and fenugreek seeds for 8 hours. The easiest way is to just soak it overnight and wake up just a few steps before the most satisfying breakfast! Drain the water and transfer the contents to a blender. I used a hand held blender and it does the job to satisfaction. So, if you have a bigger powerful one, you are guaranteed to have a better batter. Blend until smooth. Add water to aid in blending and to reach the consistency. It is a bit tough to describe the consistency with words, but all I can say is that, neither too thick nor too thin. It is always to start with a thicker batter and slowly add water and blend more to reach the best consistency. Add the required salt at this stage. Dosai perfectionists would prefer to wait until this batter ferments. Living in Germany, I can only dream that it would ferment when left outside. But still, if you prefer, you can pre heat your oven for sometime, switch off the oven, wait for 2-3 minutes and then place the batter inside for a few hours! But oh, who has the patience?! Once you smell batter that is ready at hand, it is impossible to resist making dosai from it.

Place a non stick pan on medium heat. Pour 1 - 2 ladles of the dosai batter and spread gingerly without applying too much pressure. Sprinkle finely chopped onions (optional), add a table spoon of oil around the dosai and wait for few minutes until one side is golden brown. Flip over and let the side with onions cook for a minute or two. Eat hot with chutney, sambar, yogurt, gun powder, yesterdays rasam, todays rasam, pickle, etc. !!!!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Deep rooted traditionalism: Kathrika sudal (Grilled Aubergine)

श्रीमान वेंकट नाथार्याह कविथार्थिक केसरी |
वेधान्थाचार्य वर्योमे संनिधात्तम सदह्रीदी ||

Salutations to shri vedantha desikar, he remains the greatest devotee until eternity.

No disrespect, but when I think of what Shri Vedantha Desikan would have had for lunch I can imagine mor kuzhambu, parupu usili and kathrika sudal! I think kathrika sudal dates back as long as Vaishnavism itself and until now I havent seen an Iyengar family that does not relish this traditional dish. The methodology of preparation is simple, very simple. When I think about this dish now, I am surprised how I could have hated Aubergine so much during my pre-teens. I used to give away my share of aubergine to my sister and she would be the happiest child ever. Unfortunately now, I even steal away her portion. Every time mom used to cook this, she had to make sure world war III would not start in Mylapore just over a portion of Kathrika sudal.

Kathrika sudal can be translated as Grilled Aubergine. Though grilling is only the first step and not the only step, its referred to as this. What I present here is the traditional way without variants (the variant using tamarind is equally amazing).

Aubergine/Brinjal/Kathrika (huge) - green chili - mustard seeds - cumin seeds - broken urad dhal - hing - salt - yogurt - oil.

Smear a drop of oil over the Aubergine. If you have a gas stove, then grill the aubergine over the naked flame (keep the flame on medium, place the aubergine over it and turn it occasionally so that its cooked uniformly). Else, set your microwave in the grill mode and toss it in for 10-15 minutes. In a conventional oven, the aubergine takes 15 minutes at 200 C (heat from top and bottom). Once the aubergine is grilled, allow it to cool before peeling off the skin. Remove the crown of the aubergine and transfer it to a bowl. Heat a table spoon of oil and crackle the mustard and cumin seeds. Fry 1 table spoon of broken urad dhal until golden brown. Add chopped green chillies and a dash of hing and pour this over the grilled aubergine. Add the required salt and a cup of thick yogurt and smash the aubergine finely. For the best taste, use clean hands so that you can squeeze the chili into it. (Ooooo, hands?! People who think like this, just go ahead and use your vegetable smasher :-) )
Garnish with fresh coriander leaves. Serve with hot sambar rice.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Radical Radish

Serendipity! This is one of the most well know situations in the scientific life as well as the kitchen life. But there are many situations that lead to serendipity. For example, this one in the kitchen. A few years back I opened my fridge on a Sunday afternoon only to discover that I just have a bunch of radish left. No other vegetables and no lentils either. Germany being comfortable in so many ways, loses out on no-shopping-sundays. Well, if you really need something, there are places to go and distances to travel and then shop. But, as I already mentioned before, Sunday! So taken into account the laze factor and that it was snowing outside, I wanted to make something tasty with what I have. And I succeeded quite well :-)

A bunch of radish-tamarind-chili powder-cumin powder-coriander seed powder-salt-fresh/desiccated coconut-mustard seeds-cumin seeds-oil

Wash and cut the radish into pieces of 4. If you do not get the small radish bunch, you can always use the normal white long and tastier one that we get in India! Heat 2 spoons of oil (sesame/sunflower) in a pan and pop the mustard and cumin seeds on it. Add the cut pieces of radish and sprinkle necessary salt over it and let it get 60% done. At maximum heat it takes only 5 minutes for this. Extract the juice from a lime sized tamarind and pour into the radish. If you are going to use tamarind paste, then dilute one spoon of the tamarind in 250ml water and then add to the radish. Immediately add along 1 spoon of chili powder, 1 spoon of coriander seed powder (dhaniya) and half a spoon of cumin powder. Sprinkle hing and turmeric. Lower the heat to medium and close the pan. Allow the radish to get cooked in the tamarind juice. When the tamarind juice starts to boil, open the lid and cook  until almost 90% of water has evaporated. Add the desiccated coconut powder or the freshly scrapped coconut, stir and garnish with fresh coriander leaves. Serve with hot rice. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Zucchini Lasagne

I have always wanted to make lasagne! Ever since I ate this wonderful Italian food in one of the street side Italian restaurant in Dusseldorf I became a huge fan. Lasagne is not for the diet-size conscious mind. It is for people who like to indulge in an extra dosage of cheese fueled by an uncompromising desire to eat the best! However, a lasagne made like this can be eaten once a year. Lasagne can also be made healthy and tasty and be a very wholesome and hunger satisfying lunch/dinner. Here I present to you a very healthy and tasty lasagne.


First read the instructions on your lasagne package! Some require boiling in water before using them as layers and some can directly go into the oven without pre boiling. I choose to have a lasagne that doesn’t require pre boiling since it is easier to handle! Wash the zucchini and cut into thick round pieces. Cook on medium heat in an oiled pan along with sliced onions. Sprinkle salt and freshly ground pepper. Keep aside and let it cool. Meanwhile, chop fresh tomatoes into a pan and start to cook on medium heat with addition of some water. Once the tomatoes are cooked and smashed, add basil and thyme and two table spoons of butter. After the butter melts, add half a cup of milk and stir well. When the milk starts to boil, sieve in a table spoon of all purpose flour with constant stirring until the sauce thickens. Adjust salt in the sauce and add pepper if required.

Alternate layers of lasagne and cooked zucchini-onions in an oven bake-able glassware. Finish with lasagne on top and pour the sauce so that entire surface is covered. Sprinkle cheese on top (shredded or cut into thick strips). Bake for 40 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius. There is no need to pre heat the oven. Serve hot with a good red wine!