Monday, April 27, 2009

Mango Payasam

It's a simple dessert, but one that I love a great deal. The humble south Indian Payasam. Throw some tapioca pearls in milk and water, add sugar, boil and slurp greedily. I do the last bit very well, I do.

Moving on, the mango season had begun in India!!! Ooooh, its delightful! Dozens of varieties of mangoes flood the market every year. And every year, I memorize all their difficult names and promptly forget it all at the end of the season. This happens unfailingly. This year I am going to document it- name with description of taste, smell and physical characteristics. I'll post it here too, just for reference.

Isn't it amazing how one fruit can taste so different in different forms? And if I went to say, Africa, I would find these mangoes with African names and even more varieties, wouldn't I? It boggles the mind...

Anyways, combining mangoes with payasam was just the next step for me. Word of caution- make sure that the mango is nice and sweet. A sour one would really spoil the dish (don't ask me how I know).

Mango Payasam

3 cups water
1/2 cup tapioca pearls
2 cups milk
1 cardamom pod OR 1/2 inch cinnamon stick
5 to 6 cashewnuts
1 spoon ghee or butter
4 small mangoes, pulp extracted or 2 cups mango pulp

Lightly fry the cashewnuts in the ghee till light brown and place aside. Boil the water and when its happily bubbling, add the tapioca pearls. Cook till the pearls expand nicely and do not have a white core- this will take a while. Then add the sugar, cashewnuts and cardamom /cinnamon and simmer for 5 mins. Add the milk and cook for another 5 minutes or till the payasam starts becoming thick. Cool to room temperature and add the mango pulp and mix in well. Serve as such or refrigerated.

Note: Payasam is also made with vermicelli instead of tapioca pearls, or with a combination of the two. However, slightly dry roast the vermicelli ahead of time to ensure it doesn't become very sticky.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mung Bean Sprout Patties

When I think 'bean sprouts', I think 'encapsulated health'. Seriously, I'm so in awe of them that when I eat them I imagine all sorts of vital nutrients bursting from them as they travel busily through my bloodstream. I almost expect my body to rise in mid-air and bulge muscles, bursting with health, just like Popeye with his spinach.

They're absolutely lovely raw. Sometimes I just run my hands through them and let them fall and they make this lovely crispy noise. I sound like Scrooge McDuck with a wad of bank notes and there's no doubt about it; sprouts make me feel rich.

I wish I did eat some everyday, but I tend to make a big batch and use them up in two or three days. Sometimes, I use them all up at once- in my sprouts patties.

The beautiful thing about using sprouts for this is that you don't need any binding agent like egg or flour for the patties to hold shape. The sprouts, when processed, end up with a natural stickiness that holds them together perfectly. But not for deep frying, no no (don't ask). That said, I sometimes do coat them with bread crumbs too.

Bean Sprout Patties
1.5 cups Bean sprouts
1 onion, chopped into bits
2 bread slices
1 handful any fresh herb (coriander/ parsley/ basil etc)
chilli powder
pepper powder

1 egg beaten
bread crumbs

Cook the bean sprouts in a little salted water till they are done and the water is all gone. Cool and add to the food processor. Pulse for a few seconds. Toast the bread slices and chop them into small squares. Add to the sprouts, along with the salt, chilli,pepper powders and the chopped herbs. Grind till you get a smooth paste. Shape the mixture into balls, press flat and give them an egg wash. Coat with breadcrumbs and fry them in a pan with a sprinkle of oil.

This is just a very simple version and I usually add something different each time. Like any patty, you can go crazy with what you add into it, in terms of spice powders or veggies or meat.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Carrot Halwa

I know it varies a great deal from family to family, but within ours, relationships with our relatives are a roller coaster ride with more downs than ups. After awhile, a sort of indifference sets in, an emotional and sometimes physical distance that makes it comfortable to just go about life with the rare meeting....but in spite of it all; the distance, the misunderstandings, the history....there's an unbidden affection I feel when I see them, some invisible bond that makes me take a step toward them.

Perhaps it is the child in me, the one who loved them without thought once, untainted by expectations or knowledge of what 'should' or 'shouldn't' be.

My Aunt S is a tough cookie, feared in many counties for her sharp and fearless tongue. But she's quick to laugh too and really enjoys her own funny stories; laughing too heartily to even get the story out completely. In the past few years, she's started visiting us often, which I find nice :)

Today I told her I would come over, a rare event I plan to get around to increasing in frequency. Anyways, I felt like making something for her and since my dad, mom and I each bought bagfuls of carrots last week, I went with some carrot halwa. I love this gooey delicious dessert, and since its mostly carrots, it's as easy on the conscience as well as the tummy!

Carrot Halwa
Serves 2


1 cup grated carrot
1 3/4 cups milk
6 tbsp sugar
1 cardamom pod
1.5 tbsp ghee
4 cashew nuts

Split into two and fry the cashew nuts in a tiny bit of the ghee till they are light brown. Set aside.
Place the milk and carrots in a vessel and cook till all the milk evaporates. The add the sugar and cardamom pod and cook till the dessert thickens. Then add the ghee and the cashew nuts. Mix and cook for a minute and remove from the stove. Allow to cool a bit before serving.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Unripe Mango Cake

Unripe Mangoes are quite popular here in India. They are used majorly for pickles. But they are also a common street food. For a few rupees, you'll get several long pieces of unripe mango coated beautifully with a mixture of salt and chilli powder. The flavors really work- the tanginess and the heat- it'll definitely leave you feeling satisfied as you wipe your eyes and nose.

The inspiration to make cake using them came from the simple fact that there were no other fruits in the refrigerator. I just thought 'Why not?'

Slightly crunchy in texture and with a hint of that tanginess that I love, this cake is quite delicious to bite into.

Unripe Mango Cake

1.5 cups Unripe mango, grated
1 cup flour
1 or 2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch baking soda
6 tbsp water

Beat the eggs and sugar till fluffy. Add the oil and the rest of the ingredients. Pour into a well greased baking tin and place some strands of the grated mango on the batter. Bake at 180 C for 35- 40 mins.

I haven't added any essence such as vanilla because I wanted the pure flavor of the mangoes, so its optional. I also felt that some frosting or icing would be a lovely soft touch that would have made it even better.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Herb + Wheat + Soup + Soya Chunks + .....

Ok, what this really is, is a wheat herbed tart shell with soup soya chunk veggie filling. Which no person of sane mind would ever post as a title. Hence the equation.

But before I go into that, I must share was so hot. The whole week has been so hot! I was actually lying on the floor with my dogs this morning trying to cool off. It was in the afternoon, when I was munching on something with a book in hand when this sudden noise made me look out the window.........and there, in spite of the sun shining down with all its might, there was a glorious rain!

We have a saying in Tamil, loosely translated it amounts to- When the sun shines and the rain falls (simultaneously), the crow and the fox get married.


I have no clue what the deep wise hidden meaning of that is, or even if there is a deep wise hidden meaning. But I do know that the rain revived me a great deal....the magic of rain....

So much so that I got up and cooked dinner. I wanted something hot and filling. So I made a tart with a whole wheat flour shell full of herbs and a filling of veggies and soya chunks cooked in sweet corn soup. Sounds like I just threw some stuff together, doesnt it? But nope, I actually planned the entire thing.....and whoo! was it filling! Hot and tasty. The herbs in the shell were really present, and the soya chunks had soaked up a lot of flavor...I didnt want a heavy filling with milk and eggs and stuff, so the soup was just light enough and brought everything together nicely.....mmmmm, mmm, mmm.

Long Named Tart
Serves 2


Tart Shell:

3/4 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 pinch salt
3 tbsp water
40 g butter
A handful of Chopped fresh mint and basil leaves


10 Soya Chunks
1/2 cup Sweet Corn Soup
7 shallots, chopped into two
1 tbsp each of chopped carrot, green bell pepper, cabbage, cottage cheese
1 dried red chilli
1 small tomato, chopped
Salt to taste
2 tsp Oil

Place the flour, salt and cold butter in a bowl and mix with your fingers. Add the water and the chopped herbs and incorporate into a ball. Do not over mix. Wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

In a pan, heat water and add the chunks and a pinch of salt. When the chunks are puffed up and cooked through, drain and squeeze out water lightly. In a separate pan, heat the oil. Add the dried red chilli and the shallots. After a min, add the vegetables. Cook for a few mins and the add the soup. Pour in some water to thin it out and add the soya chunks, preferably cut in half. Cook till the vegetables are almost tender and the filling is thick.

Roll out or rather gently press the tart dough into a flat circle to line a 6 inch pastry shell. Pour in the soup and veggie mix. Top with some chopped tomatoes and bits of cheese. Bake in an oven for 35 mins at 180 C.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sis' Raw Ash Gourd Salad

There aren't many vegetables I'd adore eating raw. I do include cucumbers, carrots, onions and bell peppers with every meal just as they are. I could name a few others....but ash gourds? My sis came up with this one and ever since that first tentative taste, many years ago, there's been no looking back.

Whenever I hear about the amazing nutritional value of each vegetable and how much of it is destroyed when cooked, I've felt it was such a shame. So this side dish is just perfect. Ash gourds are loaded with calcium and all that good stuff. An easy and simple dish.

Raw Ash Gourd Salad


1 cup grated ash gourd
4 tbsp yoghurt
2 tsp oil
1 dried red chilli
2 pinches mustard seeds
2 pinches cumin seeds
10 to 15 curry leaves, chopped
coriander leaves, chopped
salt to taste

Remove the seeds and the fleshy part around them before you grate the ash gourd. Place it in a bowl along with the chopped coriander leaves and yoghurt. Heat the oil in a small pan. Add the red chilli, mustard and cumin seeds. Allow them to splutter. Take off the stove and add the chopped curry leaves. (Hold the pan as far away as possible at all times) Add this to the bowl along with the salt and mix well. I personally enjoy this salad cold, so I refrigerate it.

This same recipe is perfect with cucumber as well, and get this- try it with the inner stem of plantain- that's the white portion that we Tamils call 'thandu'- its a wonderful vegetable, and is really good raw in this dish.

Note: Plantain Stem needs to be cleaned of its fibers. Chop up the log like stem into tiny rectangles, place in a large bowl full of water and use a rough surfaced stick to churn the water. At intervals, remove the fibers that stick to the surface of the stick. Do it for a few mins. Then drain and use.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tang Yuan, from Rasa Malaysia

I've fallen in love...with sesame seeds. I've always liked them- no one would doubt that if they saw me down my Mom's idli podi(a powder to accompany idlis)in which sesame seeds are the main ingredient, but with my first taste of the sweet version, I heard heavenly music, saw bright stars and was swept off my feet.

It was a different type of love, the first time I stumbled upon Rasa Malaysia. Beautiful, elegant, fresh.....downright classy. A blog like a genteel lady. Today, after many weeks of trying to find the time to, I got around to trying her sesame seed dumplings- Tang Yuan- something I've never heard of before.

We have a similar version in India, but we steam them and the fillings are varied across the nation. This one I wanted to try. I must say- when I ground the roasted sesame seeds, the aroma that filled the room was just perfect.

There was only one problem- sticky rice flour. People here would go- what's that? As did my mom. So I had to make do with the stickiest rice I could find here and make my own flour. Since I have nothing to compare it to, I have no clue if what I've made is anything like what it should be. But I have a pretty good notion that its not right- it just didn't feel right. The flour was not working.....I'm gonna go to Malaysia to buy flour. Sure I will. Anyways, I'm waiting for Rasa Malaysia to clear up some doubts. So an update- the verdict, will follow soon.

I halved her recipe. Here it is-


8 oz. glutinous rice (sticky rice) flour
180 ml water (3/4 cup water)
1/4 cup black sesame seeds
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons)

Ginger Syrup :

5 cups water (reduced to 4 cups after boiling)
1 cup sugar
4 oz. old ginger (skin peeled and then lightly pounded with the flat side of a cleaver)
1/2 teaspoon sweet osmanthus (optional)
2 screwpine leaves or pandan leaves (tie them into a knot, optional)

Head on over to Rasa Malaysia for the full recipe....its so worth it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cottage Cheese Coins with Cauliflower puree

Did anyone notice how many 'C's there are in the title?.....It sounds so fancy but its a really simple recipe.

I love vegetable purees. They are so simple to make and so versatile- I use them as such as sandwich spreads, as dips, add them in can pretty much do anything with them and make them with any combination of vegetables as well. Cauliflower puree is very tasty- it can be colored AND flavored with the addition of carrots or oooh, beets! Healthy and lovely!

Cottage Cheese Coins with Cauliflower Puree

Cottage Cheese coins

1 tsp White Vinegar
1 tbsp Sweet Chilli Sauce
1 pinch salt

Mix all the ingredients together. Cut firm cottage cheese into 1/2 inch thick circles and marinate them for a few hours. In a lightly greased pan, cook both sides till slightly brown.

This is the first time I used ketchup to marinate something and I really liked the result- the cheese was really juicy.

Cauliflower puree

1 cup Cauliflower
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp yogurt
1 tsp butter
salt and pepper to taste

In a pan, boil the water and add the cauliflowers and salt. Close and cook for a few minutes till the cauliflower is tender. Allow it to cool and transfer to the food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and grind into a fine puree. If you'd like a little acid in it, add a dash of lemon juice.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Kovil Mavu

As a child, going to the temples was an event, an adventure I looked forward to enjoying with my cousins. We'd all be spruced up, neat and clean, with much too powdered faces, running ahead of the adults amidst huge blocks of sculpted stone. Religion hardly fit into it. We were along for the ride...and the kovil mavu.

Tamil ladies make this simple dessert and place it as offerings to the gods. The priest blesses it and returns it to us and the fun begins. I love that mavu. Literally meaning 'temple flour', its a sweet grainy bite that we distribute to the other people who come to the temple and take just enough back home. The theory behind the distribution is the Indian version of the Golden rule, a symbol of generosity.

This week, we visited our ancestral clan temple. Usually these temples are simple structures way out in the middle of nowhere, as ours is. The goddess is a green faced beauty, richly covered in bright jewelery and shiny clothes- I always love looking at her. The "Patchai Amman" or green mother goddess is famed for a few miles around for her Deiva Vaku- where flowers are heaped on her and the priests chant and ring bells around her. The person who prays at that point asks a question, silently or aloud and waits for a flower to fall. If it falls to the left, they take it as a yes, permission granted. If it falls to the right, it means no. Now, as an engineer, I can talk about acoustics and sound vibrations and all that to explain the falling flower, but then as a spiritualist, I believe that nothing is a coincidence or an accident. Whatever the reason behind the actual falling, the people who pray there derive some comfort and guidance and as long as they're happy with it, I'm content to watch the almost magical event.

Photography is prohibited in the inner sanctum, but I took snaps of the guardians of the Gods who stand watch outside. They are huge- 20 feet or so and are quite imposing to look at....

Kovil Mavu

1 Kilo/2.2 lbs Rice- ground into Rice Flour
5 cardamom pods
3/4 kilo/1.5 lbs Jaggery OR sugar
1 cup water
1 pinch salt
1 cup Black sesame seeds
1/2 a fresh coconut, grated
1 cup Split Roast Gram

If store bought rice flour is extremely fine- like face powder, that can be used. Otherwise, its better to make one's own. Simply soak rice for atleast an hour. Spread out on a newspaper and allow to dry partially. It must still be a bit damp and cool. Grind into very fine powder. It's best to grind the cardamom pods along with the rice flour. Its a wonderful way to get fragrant flour.

Seive the rice flour into a bowl. The traditional method to sweeten this is with Indian jaggery. The big lumps are broken down to smaller ones or powder. If you can't get jaggery, use white sugar. Place the jaggery in a pan with the water, add a pinch of salt and boil a bit till you get a simple syrup. Add to the rice flour.

Roast the sesame seeds lightly and add, along with the split roast gram and grated coconut, to the flour mixture. If you plan on keeping this for awhile then its better to slightly roast the grated coconut as well, as it'll keep longer.

Mix with your hands and slowly gather it as you mix so that it forms one big lump. The damp rice flour and the sweetener will almost always give off enough moisture for the shape to hold. Break into small lumps when serving it.