Monday, January 26, 2015

Quick N Easy Mushroom Biryani

Making Biryani, one of the most sought after accompaniments is elaborate. It's like performing a ritual at home, spreading ingredients, cutting, chopping, grinding, frying and feeling tired and impatient in the process. Those who cook the elaborate method are seldom able to enjoy relishing such biryani that they make, putting in such a great effort!
I found a quick and easy method by which we can make tasty succulent biryani. Takes just about 30 mins from scratch to finished product and  doesn't need grinding if you have brown onion paste in stock. Some years ago, Dabur came out with packed brown onion paste but they discontinued marketing that. They used to add salt into it, which made the dishes salty at times if you couldn't get a grip! We make that paste at home by browning thinly sliced onions with oil and grinding them into a fine paste, preserving the paste in the freezer in small plastic containers for future use. You can also follow that method when onions are inexpensive in the market and use a container of the brown onion paste as and when required. Two tablespoons of the paste is sufficient for making biryani with  2 cups of basmati or jeera rice.

Fresh Mushrooms are easily available in the market. Hence I tried making mushroom biryani the quick way and the same recipe can be adapted to make biryani with one kilo chicken pieces. The amount of spice powders, oil/ghee added maybe adjusted according to your taste, but I prefer my biryani really hot and spicy. Hence I've added green chillies as well. Besides, green chilies blend well with mushrooms giving a better flavour. if you're adding canned mushrooms, wash them thoroughly to get rid of the brine they use as preservative and also reduce the salt a bit while cooking them. I prefer this made with just ghee, for the smell of ghee blends well with the spices and curd to make the biryani divine!
Ingredient:
Basmati/Jeera rice - 2 cups
Water - 3 cups
Whole Green Cardamoms - 3

Cloves - 6
Cinnamon - 2" stick
Bay leaf - 1
Onion - 2 medium sliced thin
Green Chillies - 3 slit lengthwise
Ginger Garlic paste - 1 Tsp
Brown Onion paste - 2 Tbsp
Red Chilli powder - 1 Tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/4 Tsp
Black Pepper powder - 1/2 Tsp
Garam Masala powder - 1 Tsp
Tomatoes - 2 medium sliced.
Chopped Coriander leaves - A handful
Chopped Mint leaves(Optional) - 1 sprig
Curd - 2 Tbsp

Fresh Mushrooms - 200Gms
Oil/Ghee - 4-6 Tsp (As per preference)
Salt - 1 and 1/2 Tsp(Or to taste)
Sugar - 1 Tsp

Method:
Wash and soak rice in water at room temperature for 15 mins, drain and keep aside.
Wash and chop mushrooms into big slices.
Heat oil/ghee in a thick bottomed pan.
Add whole spices and fry till they crackle.
Add sliced onions and green chillies and fry till they turn golden.
Add ginger garlic paste and brown onion paste, fry till oil leaves the sides.
Add Sugar and salt, all the spice powders and fry till the mass becomes brown.
Add sliced tomatoes, chopped greens and fry till tomatoes turn mushy and the raw smell disappears.
Now add the curd and fry till the masala is well blended and smooth.
Add sliced mushrooms and 3 cups water, bring to a boil.
Check for salt and then add the soaked drained rice.
Cover and cook on slow heat for 15 mins or till the rice has cooked and absorbed all the water.
Serve hot with choice of raita and with any side dish.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Aval Sakkarai Pongal(Phova Sweet Khichdi)

"Happy Makara Sankranti/Pongal to all!"
Pongal is for Tamilians just like Khichdi is for Maharastrians. It is made by the Tamilians, especially the Aiyers and Aiyengars adding Moong Daal in different combinations. The savoury pongal is made with rice or rava while the sweet one is made with rice or Aval. Aval is Poha in Hindi, Avalakki in Kannada, Bajil in Tulu and Phovu in Konkani.

Today is Makara Sankranti or the Pongal festival. This day is not complete without making sweet and savoury pongal as the main dishes. We make Sweet Khichdi with moong daal and rice adding jaggery and also with chana daal and broken wheat adding sugar. I was browsing through a fantastic blog by name Padhu's Kitchen in which she has simplified hundreds of vegetarian recipes showing perfectly made South Indian snacks with step by step pictures and method. One dish attracted mny attention. That is Aval Sakkarai Pongal or Poha Sweet Pongal. Now I am used to calling poha as phova and pongal as khichdi since my younger days. I thus take the liberty to call this wonderful snack, Phova Sweet Khichdi.

Though I adapted this recipe from Padhu's Kitchen, it has no mention of added grated coconut in this. So i made slight changes and added coconut. I also didn't roast the raisins in ghee and didn't mash the lentil as mentioned in the original recipe. Thick phova is used here and I like the khichdi slightly dry as compared to typical Tamilian way of making mashed pongal. Serving tips say add little ghee if you want, but I also garnished the sweet dish with banana discs like we add to sweet khichdi, and the combo tasted ultimate! 

This is easy to prepare, takes very less time of just under 30 minutes to make from scratch and tastes much better than pongal/khichdi made with rice. Phova is a processed cereal made from roasted boiled paddy. So it is high in fiber and tastes better than rice. Highly recommended for those who like South Indian sweet dishes with jaggery. Jaggery makes all the difference, rendering the dish exotic!
Ingredients:
Thick Aval/Poha - 1/2 cup
Moong daal - 1/4 cup
Grated Jaggery - 1/3 cup
Milk - 2-3 tbsp
Grated coconut - 1/4 cup
Cashew nut bits - A handful
Cardamom powder - 1/4 tsp(4 pods peeled and seeds crushed)
Raisins - A handful
Ghee - 25-30 Gms

Method:
Dry roast moong daal until you get a nice aroma. 
Cook with little water until tender. 
Keep aside.
Soak aval/phova for 10 minutes or till soft. 
Squeeze out water and keep aside. 
Make sure the aval is soft by tasting it.
Fry cashew nuts until golden and keep aside. 
Melt jaggery in 2-3 tbsp of water, filter it to remove any impurities.
Boil jaggery with 1 tsp of ghee.
When it melts and starts foaming, add the cooked daal. 
Let it cook on medium flame until slightly thick.
Loosen the soaked squeezed aval and add it to the jaggery-daal mixture.
When it sizzles and thickens slightly, add milk(milk is added to moisten the aval) and cook for another 2-3 minutes on slow heat.
Add grated coconut, cashew nuts, raisins, cardamom powder, remaining ghee, mix well and remove from heat.
This pongal tends to dry up as it cools, so remove from heat when it is semi thick in consistency.
Serve hot drizzled with a little ghee, garnished with ripe banana discs.
This can also be served with Rava Pongal like Mysorean combo snack Chow Chow Bhaat.
Note: 
You can also add thinner variety of aval or phova if you don't get thick one. In that case, just rinse the phova, squeeze and use.

Original recipe link: http://www.padhuskitchen.com/2015/01/aval-sakkarai-pongal-poha-sweet-pongal.html

Rava Pongal

"Happy Makara Sankranti/Pongal to all!"
"Let's try Aiyer's Hotel today Shenoy. They make nice idli, vada, dosa and pongal!" said my fellow train companion Vijay Kumar, employed in Indian Bank Chamarajanagar. We had just reached the town around 9:20am and I was thinking about having breakfast in a good restaurant. I was working for a bank myself those days in 1979-80.

Vijay Kumar had good knowledge about restaurants in Chamarajanagar, as he was travelling from Mysore to that town daily for at least 2 years before I joined for duty there. Being a Tamilian he also knew where we get good South Indian breakfast. So I agreed and we reached a traditional semi-tile roofed house with a garden in front. We entered the place, found a clean table and occupied the wooden chairs. The ambiance was cool like an a/c room! 

A waiter wearing mundu and half sleeves shirt came to our table and we asked him what's hot. He said, Idli, Vada, Dosa, Rava Kesari and Rava Pongal. I ordered rava kesari and pongal, while Vijay Kumar ordered dosa. We were not disappointed. Vijay Kumar was right. The Rava Kesari(Kesari Bhaat) and Rava pongal tasted too good for words! They also served tangy spicy sweet tamarind gojju as sauce with the rava pongal. I felt so good, I ordered one more rava pongal and satiated my hunger. The strong fresh filter coffee did full justice to my breakfast that day!

Aiyer's Hotel was my favourite joint for breakfast ever since. Then in August 1980 I got transfer to Bangalore and I didn't visit Chamarajanagar after that!

When I settled down with Meena as my life partner, I used to tell her that I must visit Chamarajanagar and taste that rava pongal some day. She said, why not try that at home. I was good at making khaara bhaat and uppumaavu those days in the late Eighties. We were also making rice pongal frequently. So, I tried my luck and somewhere in the early Nineties, I tried and succeeded in making the perfect Rava Pongal!

That was only once in the Nineties I made it and then a couple of attempts in the latter half of the new Millennium. I almost forgot that the snack existed for the last 8 years! Then today, as I was telling Meena that we must make sweet and savoury pongal for Makara Sankranti, for the benefit of our followers, she said why not try the good old Rava Pongal along with the Aval Sakkarai Pongal that I was planning to make today for brunch. I thought that's great, and here it is, my recipe to make Rava Pongal. I did peep into Padhu's Kitchen and noted her recipe, but that was not my kinda stuff. I wanted it exactly like I had made earlier. Only difference I found was, I had added chopped green chillies in my old recipe but Padhu's Kitchen says, add chopped ginger. That's a logical idea and I adapted that in this recipe. You can serve this with sweet pongal and have a hearty tasty breakfast or brunch. 
Ingredients:
Bombay Rava - 1 cup
Moong Daal - 1/4 cup
Boiling Water - 2 1/2 cups
Milk(Optional) - 2 Tbsp
Chopped Ginger - 1 Tbsp
Curry leaves - 6-8
Whole Peppercorns - 1/2 Tsp
Whole Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Crushed peppercorns - 1/2 Tsp
Cumin powder - 1/2 Tsp
Ghee - 2 Tbsp
Cashewnut bits - A handful
Salt - 1/2 Tsp(or to taste)
Sugar - 1 Tsp
Grated Coconut - 1/4 cup 

Method:
Dry roast moong daal and cook it with little water till tender. 
Heat ghee, add cashew bits, whole spices, chopped ginger, curry leaves and fry. 
Add crushed peppercorn and cumin powder, followed by rava.
Roast on slow flame till rava is crisp and aromatic.
Add boiling water carefully, as it tends to spurt out. 
Add the cooked daal with water, sugar and salt.
Simmer, mix in optional milk and allow rava to expand almost three times.
When the pongal is still wet and sticky, switch off the flame, sprinkle grated coconut and place the pan on the kitchen platform to cool down for 5 mins.
Mix well and serve hot with spicy sweet and tangy dates tamarind chutney/gojju.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Naan Kathai(Narayan Katar)

When we were in school, sweet cookies mostly meant 'Narayan Katar', the lemon yellow coloured small flat and bulgy ones that we used to buy from City Bakery or Ganesh Bakery. My father told us that they were called Naan Kathai and local bakers have twisted the name to suit the local lingo and made them Narayan Katar! Whatever be the name, these were and these are one of the most favourite sweet cookies I have relished. They just melt in the mouth releasing the flavour of cardamom and aroma of ghee(if made at home. Bakeries add margarine/vanaspati).
I first thought, Naan Kathai is originally from Karachi, as we all know Sindhis are adept at baking fine cookies. My guess was proved wrong, when the other day my friend Arvind Mallya, who has studied colonial cuisine with much expertise, asked me if I know the story behind Naan Kathai and its origin. I showed my ignorance. He explained that Naan Kathai, originally known as Naan Cathay is from China. Chinese made these for the Dutch colonials in Gujarat and they popularised it! Here, 'Naan' means bread and 'Cathay' is an ancient name for China like we also call our country India as Bharat.

Making Naan Kathai is as simple as making Churmundo or Wheat flour laddu. My mother, an expert in making Churmundo has also made Naan Kathai, following a traditional recipe many times. Though we never had oven those days, she used to make the dough balls, transfer them into a flat container with layers of butter paper in between the balls and call me. I used to carefully take them on my bicycle to Ganesh Bakery and get them baked as I waited. They charged Rs.2/- per 100 Naan Kathais those days. Later in the year 1975 I became friends with Michael Costa of Costa Bakery in Chilimbi who said "Bring it here man. I will bake them for you for free!". 

While working in a bank in Bunder Mangalore, a certain Baliga from Bantwal used to come with variety of goodies on an autorickshaw and he used to sell very good Narayan Katar and Ram Katar. Ram Katar is white Narayan Katar without adding lemon yellow colour and had excessive cardamom powder in it. Then my colleague Uppinangady Jayanth Nayak told me "Making them at home is very easy and also healthy. I will give you the tested recipe from my mother!". The recipe he gave, had the ingredients with old  traditional measurements, mentioning 'Kudte' for ghee and 'Lota' for maida and sugar. Kudte means an ounce or approximately 30ml. Lota means the coffee tumbler that measures around 125ml. My mother also used to mention these terms but converting them is not an easy job without using google. Contemporaries knew their formula by the sleight of hand and not by measuring the ingredients! So, I did adapt Jayanth Nayak's recipe here, but used modern measuring units and tools. 
Nothing can compare to home made Naan Kathai with added pure ghee. Couple of times my mother added saffron to them and the flavour was ultimate. Adding saffron not only adds to flavour, but it also adds slight yellowish tinge to them. We avoid adding artificial colouring unlike bakers who add lemon yellow colur to make them look more attractive! I prefer adding just a hint, maybe 1/3 of cardamom powder as against heavy use by many, so that flavour of saffron will be highlighted more. 

Here I have added tiny cashew bits as well, so that when we bite into them, the cashew bits that get toasted while baking give a good taste blended with other ingredients. Be watchful while baking them. A minute or more delay will brown them and make them more crunchy. They should actually crumble and melt in the mouth as you bite into them. My method may look slightly elaborate, but these stages ensure smoothness and a homogeneous mixture of ingredients. Keeping them for 8-10 hours after mixing the dough also help in soda bicarb act on the dough, leavening the dough and making the Naan Kathais crumble.
Ingredients:
Refined Flour(Maida) - 2 cups
Powdered Sugar - 1 cup
Ghee - 80Ml
Soda BiCarb - 1/2 Tsp
Baking Powder(optional) - 1/2 Tsp
Green Cardamom powder - A pinch(3 pods peeled and seeds crushed)
Saffron - A pinch
Tiny Cashew bits(Optional) - A handful

Method:
Heat and melt ghee.
Divide the hot ghee into 3 parts.
To one part, add crushed saffron and cardamom powder and keep it for 10-15 mins.
Let the saffron and cardamom get blended with the ghee. 
Add that to sugar powder and beat well till creamy.
Add the second portion of ghee and soda, mix well.
Add maida part by part and mix well till maida forms crumbs.
Keep covered for 2 hrs.
Add cashew bits, remaining ghee and knead well to form a soft pliable dough.
Keep well covered for another 6-8 hrs at room temperature.
Add baking powder and knead again(You can skip this step if you want them slightly stiff and crunchy)
Preheat oven at 350°F(180°C) for 10 minutes.
Make small lemon size balls, flatten them slightly by pressing gently with your palms, arrange in the lined/greased baking tray with little gap in between.
Bake at 350°F(180°C) for 15 mins or till tiny cracks form on the top surface and bottom becomes light golden.
Cool down at room temperature on the rack and store in airtight container.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mushroom Paav Bhaaji

Paav Bhaaji is Mumbai's signature street food that's not only delicious and full of spicy flavours, it also is a complete meal by itself. The aromatic masalas and tanginess of amchoor powder(Dry Mango powder) blend well with the veggies and the melting butter to release divine flavours that makes the eater go into a heavenly trip to ecstasy! I haven't come across anyone so far who doesn't like this combo snack.
Back in Mumbai in the mid Seventies, there was a famous street cart eatery at Five Gardens in Matunga making one of the best paav bhaajis I've ever tasted in my life. It was my first experience in relishing that snack. My friends Dr Vishwanath Shenoy and his cousin Dr Ananth Shenoy took me there every evening during my two weeks stay in Mumbai and I had the privilege of eating paav bhaaji and quench my thirst with Lakhan's Kaala Khatta(Black Currant juice) garnished with black salt. Those were the days!

Later I went to Mumbai again in 1978 August and tried paav bhaaji in Mulund near the vegetable market. That was also fantastic. Not many restaurants or fast food joints in Mangaluru can make paav bhaaji like they make in Mumbai. Bengaluru comes second acccording to my experience and there I relished excellent paav bhaaji in a residential colony next to a school in Sheshadripuram. 

We have prepared regular paav bhaaji at home using many brands of masala powder but 'Everest' is the best as per my knowledge. It has the right amount of aromatic spices and chillies added in it. Fast food joints make this on a thick cast iron tawa while we use non-stick pans for convenience. The red garlic chutney they add in Mumbai is substituted with Kashmiri chilli powder and chopped garlic. 

Going one step higher, when Meena wanted to eat paav bhaaji the other day, I suggested that we can add chopped mushrooms and make it special. Along with other veggies and ingredients necessary to make this bhaaji, I also bought a packet of fresh button mushrooms.

There are a few finer details to observe while making the bhaaji:

1. Select veggies that are low in fiber and high in carbs and protein. Avoid adding capsicum and ginger paste which dominate the flavour and spoil the taste of the bhaaji.
2. Boil the veggies well, so that they can be mashed properly. Well mashed veggies blend well with the masalas and when you fry the bhaaji with butter before serving, that gives the right and smoothness to the gravy.
3. Serve the bhaaji straight from the pan to the plate to retain the flavours.
4. Chop the onions and tomatoes very fine, so that they blend well with the gravy.
5. Don't add too much masala or chilli powder. This bhaaji is meant to be slightly bland but full of melting butter.
6. Don't mash mushrooms. Just chop them fine, sauté with butter and then mix in the mashed bhaaji to get the taste right.

So here it is, the special Mushroom Paav Bhaaji, our last presentation for the year ending 2014. Happy cooking, happy dining, wishing you all a very happy year to come!
Ingredients:
Paav Buns(preferably local non-sweet) - 12
Green Peas - 1/2 cup(50Gms)
Cauliflower florets - 1 cup(75 Gms)
Potato - 1 big(75Gms)
Garlic - 10-12 cloves
Onions - 2 medium(100 Gms)
Tomatoes - 3 medium(100Gms)
Fresh Button Mushrooms - 4-6(80 Gms)
Refined oil - 2 Tsp
Butter - 100 Gms or more
Salt - 1 Tsp(or to taste)
Paav Bhaaji Masala - 3 Tsp(or 1 tbsp)
Kashmiri Chilli powder - 1 Tsp
Coriander leaves - A handful
Lemon Wedges

Method: 
Peel and finely chop garlic cloves.
Peel and finely chop onions.
Wash and finely chop tomatoes.
Wash and finely chop the mushrooms.
Wash and finely chop the coriander leaves.
Slice each paav bun horizontally into two.
Wash the green peas and cauliflower, transfer to a bowl without water.
Wash the whole potato, keep in the pressure cooker with little water, keep the peas and cauliflower separately and pressure cook for 10 mins.
Remove from the cooker, peel the potato and chop finely.
heat oil in a thick bottomed pan.
Fry the chopped garlic till golden, followed by the chopped onions with little salt, till golden.
Add the chopped tomatoes and fry till the rawness disappears.
Add the cooked peas, cauliflower and potatoes.
Add the masala powder, Kashmiri chilli powder and remaining salt.
Mash the mass using a ladle or a special implement as shown in the pictures.
Mix well, add 1/2 cup water and allow to cook on medium flame for 3 mins.
Collect the mass on the periphery of the pan, make some space in the center and melt 50 gms butter in the center.
Add chopped mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
Mix in the mashed veggies already cooked with the masalas, allow to sizzle for another 2 minutes.
At this point, you can mix in little more butter, if you find the gravy too dry.
In the meanwhile, generously apply butter on both sides of the paav buns and roast them on another frying pan till lightly brown and the melting butter gets well absorbed into the slices.
Arrange two whole buns per plate.
Serve the bhaaji straight on each serving plate with a knob of butter, chopped onions, coriander leaves and a wedge of lemon.
Enjoy!
Note: 
This recipe is sufficient for a family of 4 with good appetite. Can be extended to 6 persons.
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