Friday, April 6, 2012

Divine combinations I : Ladies finger and Rasam

There are several combinations when it comes to Indian food. We never cook just one dish alone. Every thing we cook needs to be accompanied by yet another and hence the terms, main dish and side dish. A "thali" consists of several items which are served together and usually they are good combinations. But one cannot have the luxury of cooking or eating the several items served in the thali, unless one wants to eat everyday at the restaurant! So, everyone finds their own divine combinations. Some are complex and some are simple and many are just out of the ordinary (trust me, there are combinations unbelievable!!). Here I present to you one of the most beloved combinations and voted favorite by so many of my friends, Ladies Finger (Okra) fry and Rasam. And the magic lies in keeping the dish as simple as possible to attain the closest mother made taste.

Lets start with the Rasam. Take a vessel and add 2-3 cups of water. Into this, drop some chopped tomatoes, crushed garlic (optional), a pinch of turmeric powder and hing, 2 table spoons of Rasam powder, salt to taste, curry leaves and chopped coriander. If using tamarind paste, then dissolve into this mixture little tamarind paste (depending on taste levels, optimum would be half of as much that goes on a toothbrush :P ), else extract the first juice from grape sized ball of fresh tamarind and add it to the vessel. Finally switch on the heat and let it boil for 5-6 minutes until all the mixture boils. It is essential that the tamarind loses its rawness. Some people would like to add a little cooked lentils into this mixture. Do so at this point, else just remove it from the heat and temper it with mustard and cumin seeds popped in hot melted butter or ghee. 

For the Ladies finger (Okra) fry, chop the okra after removing its crown, into half centimeter pieces or more finely if you prefer. Heat oil in a frying pan and pop some mustard seeds, cumin seeds and broken dry red chillies. Add some broken urad dhal, a pinch of turmeric and some hing. Do not let the red chillies or the urad dhal burn. So, immediately add the cut ladies finger (Okra), sprinkle the necessary salt and allow it to get cooked. If you close the pan, then you end up with cooked Okra. But then, keep if open and reduce the flame heat to medium and keep stirring carefully (from time to time) to obtain nicely fried vegetables.

Pour some hot Rasam over cooked white rice and serve with the fried ladies finger!

Pumpkin in coconut milk, Parangi Paal Kootu or Kurbis mit coconusmilch

The sweet pumpkin is a delicacy and there are several recipies from it. Western civilizations just carve it for decoration or make pumpkin soup but rarely use it in regular cooking. The only prominent time it is cooked is during the Halloween month. But true south Indian kitchen utilizes this magical sweet pumpkin (Parangikai in tamil) in various recipies. Let me start with the most fascinating one for me.

Essentially, to make a Paal Kootu, one would require an unripened sweet pumpkin. In India one can get it immediately but in Germany, it is easy to find this sweet pumpkin only as ripened "Kurbis". Still, when purchased with a thick flesh it is perfect for this cuisine.

Sweet pumpkin - coconut scrapping - coconut milk - green chillies - curry leaves - cumin - hing - mustard seeds - salt

Cut the sweet pumpkin into thick cubes (it gets cooked really fast). Pop some mustard seeds, cumin seeds, few green chillies cut length wise and some curry leaves over oil and saute the pumpkin in this. Add salt and a pinch of hing and close the vessel for 2 minutes. Check if the pumpkin is cooked and sprinkle a handful of fresh coconut scrapping and stir for a minute. Turn the hear off and add a cup of coconut milk and mix into the pumpkin. Close the lid on and leave on the switched off hot plate for a minute. Don't let the coconut milk boil too long or on too much heat as it would destroy the entire dish. Serve with hot plain rice.