Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tradtional Punjabi Curries

Punjabi Curries : A Primer
Punjab( Punj: five, aab: river), the bread basket of India, is blessed with a fertile, lush land and abundant water. So it is no wonder that the Punjabi cuisine uses fresh vegetables, fresh herbs, and dairy products extensively. Punjabi cuisine is one of the richest Indian cuisines. It is also the most widely available Indian cuisine across the world. It is so popular that Indian cuisine means Punjabi cuisine to most foreigners. In fact, it actually might be the most widely available Indian cuisine in India, due to the enormous number of Punjabi dhabas ( road side eateries) dotting all highways. The dhabas were initially setup to cater to the long distance truck drivers, a profession still dominated by hardy and hard working Punjabis.
Various Muslim dynasties have ruled Punjab for over a 1000 years and have had a large impact on Punjabi cuisine. The extensive use of dairy products, slow cooking techniques and the use of Tandoor were all learnt from Moguls.
Punjabi dishes range from the most simple to the elaborately fancy. The simple Makki ki roti ( corn flatbread ), Sarson Ka Saag ( Mustard green curry ) and Dahi ka lassi ( Yogurt drink), none of which use exotic spices or complicated cooking techniques, is a typical rustic Punjabi meal. Here, even slicing onions is considered too fancy. The plain, raw onions, which accompany the roti, are not sliced, but are just crushed with a fist. In contrast, Punjab also boasts of a huge array of delicious stuffed parathas, and many elaborate curries suffixed or prefixed with Makhani ( buttery) or Malai ( cream) or paneer ( cottage cheese). These rich curries use a range of spices, ghee, butter and other dairy products extensively. Every meal, elaborate or fancy, is washed down with copious amounts of buttermilk or lassi.
In contrast to most other Indian cuisines, where skinned and split pulses are preferred, Punjabi cuisine emphasizes the use of whole, unhusked pulses. The famous Maa Ki Daal, Chole and Rajma are cooked from whole Urad dal, Chick peas and Red kidney beans.
Being the breadbasket of India, the staple cereal is wheat. However, rice is also grown here and is cooked on special occasions. Unlike other states, Rice is never served plain, but is always seasoned with fried onions or cumin. Rice is usually paired with Rajma or Karhi. Rice cooked in sugarcane juice is served on festive occasions.
A typical Punjabi breakfast would be plain or stuffed parathas, pickles and buttermilk. The lunch / dinner would have Rotis made from wheat or corn, Sarson ka saag / dal and lassi.

The curry base : See Column 1
Lentils, pulses, spinach, vegetables, milk, yogurt, onion- tomato are all used as curry bases across the state. A selection of popular curries is listed below:
The Punjabi Raita is very similar to a regular North Indian raita, and uses most salad vegetables. Boiled potatoes and other boiled vegetables are also used.
The Onion – tomato base is used to cook up a range of masalas like the Paneer butter masala.
Yogurt- gramflour is used to cook up a range of kadhis. Pakodis / wadis are the goodies of choice in Kadhis.
Lots of onions are used to cookup a dopiaza, a typical moghul curry.
Milk with nut paste becomes the base for the Korma, another moghul curry.
Imli chutney is one of the few Punjabi dishes which use tamarind as a base. (Chole is another).
Mustard greens are gently cooked to a velvety puree to create the signature dish of Punjab , Sarson Ka saag.
Whole, unskinned urad dal is the base for another signature dish, Maa ki daal.
Mixed dals cooked together forms the base for Panchratni dal.
Dried whole pulses (chickpeas and red kidney beans) go into making the Chole and Rajma.
Flavouring : See column 2
The usual North Indian flavourings of cumin, garam masala, turmeric, coriander, ginger, chili, kalonji, are all used in Punjabi cuisine. Freshly crushed whole spices are extensively used. Cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, bayleaf, cloves, fennel are occasionally used. Mustard oil / Coconut oil / sesame oil / Asafetida / curry leaves are almost never used.
Traditionally, a curry base is often paired with a particular flavouring. For example, a Korma (Column 1 , row 4) is usually flavoured by bay leaves, cardamom and cloves ( Column 2, row 3). This is because a Korma is a Mogul curry and so uses typical Mogul flavourings. However, a Korma can be paired with any of the flavourings listed in column 2 as long as it does not contradict the spirit of the dish. For example, the Korma is a rich, royal curry and so flavouring it with just cumin is usually not done. Instead, flavouring with expensive spices is the norm. In contrast, a dal is a simple, rustic curry and so is not elaborately flavoured. Just a pinch of fried cumin serves the purpose. Once you understand the spirit of the cuisine, you can boldly experiment with different flavourings. Flavouring a Korma with saffron / vanilla / truffles etc, though not common, is perfectly acceptable as it goes with the spirit of Korma.
Goodies : See Column 3
Due to the abundance of fresh vegetables, dry vegetables are not commonly used in Punjabi curries. Traditional curries use select pairings of a curry base and goodies. For example, Karhi is usually paired with pakodi or wadi. Similarly, a dal / chole / rajma usually do not have added vegetables. But feel free to use your favourite goodies in all the curries above. They might not be traditional, but they’ll very likely be delicious. You need not limit yourselves to the goodies listed in column 3. Like any mature cuisine, Punjabi cuisine is flexible and can support a wide variety of flavouring techniques / goodies. So a wide variety of locally available vegetables / mushrooms / other edibles can be safely used. A tofu butter masala is certainly not traditional, but I’ve no doubt it would taste great.
What makes a curry a Punjabi Curry ?
1. Heavy use of dairy products - - ghee / butter / cream / yogurt / paneer ..
2. Use of butter/ghee as a cooking medium.
3. Use of nut paste & cream as thickeners.
4. Use of unhusked, whole pulses.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Traditional Bengali / Orissa Sweets

I’m not a big fan of cooking desserts as I thought they were time consuming and messy. How wrong! Once the basic principles are understood, it is very tough to go wrong. Starting from scratch, cooking up a batch of rasagullas took me exactly 12 minutes, and no mess. They were a bit hard, but perfectly edible. The second batch was a lot softer as by then I’d learnt to refine the technique.

The Principle :
Bengal and Orissa rule the world of milk sweets because they mastered the principle of curdling milk to extract milk solids. Legend has it that the rasagulla was traditionally made in the Puri temple, from where it moved with the Brahmin cooks to West Bengal, where it soon became very popular.
The basic principle is simple: curdle the milk and separate the milk solids. Knead, shape them and boil them in sugar syrup to puff them up. Steep them in a sweet liquid and serve. For all the sweets listed above, the milk solids are kneaded into a smooth dough, and cooked in hot sugar syrup. A variety of sweets can be cooked once you get this principle straight. I've listed two ways of cooking up rasagullas below :

The traditional way

Boil milk on a gentle flame, skimming off the skin as it forms on the surface. Add lemon juice to make milk curdle. Filter the solids. Cool and knead well to the consistency of chappati dough. Shape into small tight balls and boil in sugar syrup. This would easily take the better part of an hour.

The quick and dirty way.

Buy the softest readymade paneer you can find. Chop it up to have a cupful. Blend to a paste. (If the paneer is very dry, add half a cup of water and blend to a smooth paste. Add the paste to a strainer / cheesecloth and drain the excess water.) Add a spoon of maida and a couple of pinches of baking powder. Knead into a smooth dough. Shape into small, smooth tight balls. Pressure cook for one whistle in sugar syrup. This would be take less than 15 minutes.

Rasagollas can be plain or stuffed, small or huge, and are served chilled, at room temperature or piping hot.

Learn to make the
rasagulla and several other sweets such as rajbhog, rasmalai, kheermohan, raskadamba are all just a step away.

  • Let’s start with column 1 in the table. Cook the cheeseballs, and steep them in sugar syrup and you have the basic rosogolla.
  • If you add semolina to the cheese dough, it lightens it and you have a Sponge Rosogulla.
  • Add a bit of orange extract while kneading the dough and you have the pale yellow Komala Bhog.
  • Flatten the cheese balls, cook and steep them in sweetened milk, garnish with nut slivers and it becomes Roshomalai.
  • If you make the cheese balls double the normal size and stuff them, they are called Rajbhog.
  • Instead of steeping them in a liquid, coat the cooked cheese balls with almond powder- condensed milk paste and you have the Raskadamba.
  • Instead of lemon sized balls, make finger length cylinders, slit them in half, add cream and chopped nuts and you have the cham cham.
  • Flatten the cheese balls, cook them and top them with sweet cream and you have Malaikari.
  • Steep the cooked cheese balls in rabdi and you have Kheersagar.
  • Steep the cooked cheese balls in thick, sweet milk and it becomes Kheermohan.

Tips for soft rasagullas
Knead well. A soft, smooth dough gives a soft rasagulla.
Let the dough rest for at least 15 minutes for the binder ( maida) to bind everything together.
Do not add too much maida while kneading the dough.
While shaping the balls, ensure they are really smooth without any edges or cracks.

Get comfortable cooking with cottage cheese (Paneer) and a whole world of Bengali / Oriya sweets is waiting to be discovered.

And this goes to Mythreyee's Cool Desserts

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Traditional Rajasthani Curries

Rajasthani Curries :: A Primer
“It takes a rough sea to make a great captain” goes a naval saying. Like the Chettinad cuisine arising out of the arid region of Tamilnadu, Rajasthani cuisine proves that even a harsh desert is no deterrent to building a great cuisine. It is a marvel that so much has been created out of so little. Rajasthan labored under multiple handicaps - lack of fuel, water, fresh vegetables or herbs.

Lack of fuel meant that food once cooked needed to be eaten for several days without reheating. And remember, food gets spoiled very fast in the desert heat. This led to the development of the Bati – baked wheat balls, which are made to last. They store well, do not need a curry, but are eaten dipped in ghee. Batis proved to be the ideal travel food for Rajasthan’s Rajput warriors and Marwari traders.

Lack of water meant that most curries used minimum water and were cooked with yogurt / buttermilk / ghee made from Camel milk. Lack of fresh vegetables meant dried lentils, dried vegetables and scrawny desert beans (sangri, ker ) were liberally used. In regions lacking even these, gramflour dumplings (Gatta, Pitode), papad, and even the roti came to be used as vegetable substitutes. Hardy cereals like bajra (millet) and corn which could thrive on harsh land became the staple cereals. Notwithstanding the rigors of nature, the cuisine was further tested by religious restrictions of Jains which forbade the use of onion, garlic, root vegetables or most leafy greens. So the pillars of most cuisines – Onion, garlic, tomato, fresh vegetables & fresh herbs were knocked off. But the Rajasthani cuisine not only stood, it thrived. Onion – garlic was replaced by asafetida, tomatoes by mango powder, fresh vegetables by dried vegetables and fresh herbs by dry herbs.

The ancient Arawalli hills split the state from north to south. The contrast between regions on either side could not be starker. The west of the hills, comprising nearly half of the state, is the land of Death – The barren, arid and inhospitable Thar desert. The colourful and historically significant Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner all lie in this hostile land dotted with stunted trees and sparse vegetation. In contrast, the east has large lakes, forests and lush land. However, it is the arid west, which has given birth to the famous Rajasthani desert cuisine.

A typical Rajasthani meal consists of bati (baked dough balls) and dal ( lentils) served with a variety of pickles. A variety of flatbreads made from wheat, millet and corn are also eaten with curries and chutneys.

The curry base : See Column 1
Pulses, yogurt, and gramflour, are used as a curry base across the state. A selection of popular curries is listed below:
The Rajasthani raita is similar to a regular raita, but mostly uses Boondi ( fried gram flour droplets) instead of fresh vegetables.
Chutneys made from fresh turmeric, garlic, red chilies, coriander and mint are popular across the state.
Khatta, the Rajasthani kadi is made from yogurt – gramflour.
Mathira is a uniquely Rajasthani curry made from watermelon – one of the few fruits grown in this arid land.
Ker Sangri is another unique curry made from dried desert vegetables.
The staple, the Dal is usually cooked with a souring agent – mango powder / tamarind.
Dried chickpeas are used to cook the Rajasthani Chole, again using a souring agent.
A mix of five dried vegetables are used to cook up the Panchkoota and a mix of five lentils go into the Panchmela dal.
Unlike the Saag of North India made from leafy greens, the Rajasthani saag is made with gramflour dumplings ( gatte : gram flour discs or pitode : gram flour diamonds) cooked with spiced yogurt.

Flavouring : See column 2.
Most North Indian spices are used in Rajasthani cuisine. These include cumin, dhania, fennel, fenugreek, onion seeds (kalonji), carom seeds (ajwain), dried ginger, kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves), cinnamon (dalchini) & cardamom (elaichi). Southern spices like mustard seeds, asafetida (hing) & turmeric powder, which are not common in most north Indian cuisines are also used.
Column 2 lists different ways in which these spices combine. It is a myth that certain curries are flavoured in certain ways. The combinations do not normally vary much within a region. But when you move across regions, you’ll see the curry being flavoured with various combinations of all the commonly used spices.

Goodies : See Column 3
It is the almost total lack of fresh vegetables that is a hallmark of Rajasthani cuisine. Instead, Gatta, Pitode, Papad, or other dry vegetables / pulses are traditionally used. Traditional curries use select pairings of a base and goodies. For example, Rajasthani dals do not usually use any vegetables. A raita is paired with Boondi and Saag with Gatta. However feel free to use your favourite goodies with any of the bases. If you want to use Mushroom or paneer with any of the curry bases, go right ahead. They might not be traditional, but will most likely be delicious.

What makes Rajasthani Curries unique?

  • Extensive use of buttermilk, yogurt and gramflour.
  • Use of mustard & asafetida unlike other north Indian curries.
  • Use of mustard oil / ghee as a cooking medium.
  • Use of ghee as a dipping sauce.
  • Avoidance of onion / garlic.
  • Use of watermelon juice as a cury base.
  • Use of gramflour dumplings & papad as vegetable substitutes.
  • Heavy use of dried vegetables.
And that's my submission to Padmaja's RCI - Rajasthan.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Traditional Bengali Curries

Click the image on the left to view the cookbook.
Like many coastal cuisines, fish and coconuts are extensively used in Bengali cuisine. Fish is so much a part of the daily diet that it even forms a part of the traditionally vegetarian Brahmin diet. Unlike North Indian cuisine, parboiled rice is a staple. The flood prone land does not support a large dairy industry and so dairy products like ghee, milk or yogurt are not extensively used in daily cooking. A typical Bengali meal consists of Rice, Dal, Vegetables and Fish. This apparent simplicity hides the fact that over 18 different types of cooking techniques are called upon to produce an array of delicious curries.
The curry base : See Column 1
Mustard paste, khus khus paste, pulses, vegetables, yogurt, onion- tomato are all used as curry bases across the state. A selection of popular curries is listed below:

The Bengali Raita is very similar to a regular North Indian raita, and uses most salad vegetables. As mentioned above, yogurt is still not a part of the daily diet in Bengali homes. But raita is gaining popularity and will very likely be regarded as a Traditional Bengali curry a few decades down the line.
The Posto is a unique Bengali curry built on khus khus paste.
Shorse Jhol is another unique curry made from a paste of mustard seeds.
Shukto is a combination of the Posto and Shorse Jhol as it is made from mustard seeds and khus khus, both blended together. It usually has a mix of vegetables, with atleast one bitter vegetable.
Rezala is Mogul curry made by simmering a wide variety of goodies in flavoured yogurt. It has to be cooked on low heat with constant stirring to prevent the yogurt from splitting.
Dalna can be dry or have a stew like consistency and is made from onions, tomato and coconuts. Dhokkar ( refried chana dal patties) is commonly used in a Dalna.
Shak is a dry spinach curry. It can be made from any leafy vegetable.
A variety of dals like Masoor dal, Mung dal and Chana dal are cooked across the state.
Ambal is one of the very few Bengali dishes which use tamarind.

Flavouring : See column 2
The usual North Indian flaourings of cumin, garam masala, turmeric, coriander, fenugreek, ginger, chili, kalonji, are all used in Bengali cuisine. Cinnamon , cloves, cardamom are occasionally used. A mixture of five spices, the Panch Phoran is widely used. Unlike North Indian curries, mustard oil is extensively used. Coconut oil / sesame oil / Asafetida / curry leaves are almost never used. Traditionally, a curry base is often paired with a particular flavouring. For example, a Rezala (Column 1 , row 4) is usually flavoured by bay leaves, cardamom and cloves ( Column 2, row 3). This is because a Rezala is a Mogul curry and so uses typical Mogul flavourings. However, it is not a crime to flavor a Rezala with Panch Phoran. Similarly feel free to experiment with various flavouring options listed in column 2.

Goodies : See Column 3
Traditional curries use select pairings of a curry base and goodies. For example, dals are usually paired with Dhokkar. Similarly, a shukto always has bittergourd, eggplant and plantain. But feel free to use your favourite goodies in the curries above. They might not be traditional, but they’ll very likely be delicious. Though listed here, mushroom and paneer are not frequently used in Bengali curries. However, a wide variety of veggies and leafy greens are used. Dhokkar is commonly used as a vegetable substitute. (Dhokkar : Boil Chana dal. Mash and pat into a sheet. Cut into diamond shapes. Shallow fry in oil. Add to simmering curry).

What makes a curry a Bengali Curry ?
1. Use of mustard oil
2. Use of mustard paste & khus khus paste as curry bases.
3. Use of panch phoran for flavouring
4. The use of fried chana dal patties (Dhokkar) as a vegetable substitute.
5. Use of sugar in curries and
6. The huge array of cooking techniques.

And that's my entry for Sandeepa's Regional Cuisines of India, reposted for Lakshmi's SWC - West Bengal.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Traditional Gujarati Curries

Gujarati Curries :: A Primer
When we move across Gujarat, we pass through very arid to very lush regions. The cuisine of each region clearly mirrors the nature of the land.

In the arid Kathiawad, curries using fresh vegetables / dairy products are not very common. Like many arid Indian cuisines, pulses and pickles are very popular instead. It is for the same reason that red chili powder is preferred over fresh green chilies. Methia Masala (made from roast and ground fenugreek seeds, red chilies and salt) is a popular spice mix and is sprinkled over just about everything. Bajra ( Pearl millet / Kambu) is preferred over wheat or rice.

Being one of the driest regions of Gujarat, pulses and rice dominate the Kutch cuisine. Like Kathiawad, red chili powder is preferred over fresh green chili.

In the milk - rich North Gujarat, use of dairy products is prevalent due to the presence of a large dairy industry.

In the lush Southern Gujarat , fresh fruits and vegetables are abundantly used. It is due to the richness of this cuisine it is said “Surat nu Jaman Te Kashi nu Maran’ ( Blessed is he who dines in Surat : Blessed is he who dies in Kashi).

The curry base : See Column 1
Pulses, vegetables, tomatoes, yogurt are now used as a curry base across the state. A selection of popular curries is listed below :

The Gujarati Raitu is similar to a raita and uses most salad vegetables and even fruits. See Cucumber Raitu ( Kakdi Nu Raitu), Carrots ( Gajar Nu Raitu), Spinach ( Bhaji nu Raitu) and banana raitu (Kela Nu Raitu).

Papaya chutney is a unique Gujarati dish. It is more a salad than chutney. Papaya is not blended to a paste, but grated, spiced and served.

Komal, made from coconut milk and yogurt can serve as a drink, a dipping sauce or as a curry.

is a delicious mango – yogurt curry. It is in Gujarat you’ll find fruits taking the place of vegetables in curries. The tomato based Kasundi uses vinegar for a sour punch. The use of vinegar in the western coast, especially in Goa and Gujarat probably is due to the Portuguese influence.

A wide variety of dry vegetable curries called Shaak are cooked. A mixture of vegetables is commonly used. See Vengan Batata nu Shaak ( Eggplant, potatoes). Tindora is a popular vegetable. See(Tindora Nu shaak ). Even roast and crushed papad is used to prepare a Shaak - the Papad Nu Shaak.

Gujarati Kadi is unique as it has grated ginger, curry leaves and of course sugar.

Lachko dal is a very simple dal flavoured with cumin. Kathi meethi dal is a sweet and sour dal with tomatoes. Trevti dal is a mixture of three dals.

Flavouring : See column 2
Cumin, Garam masala, turmeric, coriander, fenugreek, ginger, chili are commonly used.
Like southern curries, mustard asafetida and curry leaves are used. Vinegar is used as a souring agent, though tamarind occasionally makes an appearance. Cinnamon and cloves are occasionally used. Vaghaar, the technique of flavouring by spices fried in oil is commonly used.

Goodies : See Column 3
Traditional curries use select pairings of a base and goodies. For example, dals do not usually use any vegetables. Instead they are paired with Dhokadi. But feel free to use your favourite goodies in the curries above. They might not be traditional, but they’ll very likely be delicious.

Though listed in the goodies table, Mushroom and paneer are not commonly used. However, a wide variety of veggies are used. Dhokadi is commonly used as a vegetable substitute. (Dhokadi : Wheat flour is kneaded with turmeric, red chili powder and salt, rolled into sheets, cut into pieces and simmered in the curry.)

A typical Gujarati meal consists of Rotli ( Small flatbreads made from millet / wheat flour), Daal : Curried pulses, Bhaat : Cooked rice and Shaak : Dry vegetable curry.

What makes Gujarati Curries unique?

  • Jaggery / sugar is added to most curries.
  • Unlike other north Indian curries, Mustard, Asafetida are extensively used.
  • Almost totally vegetarian.
  • Mustard oil / Coconut oil are not used for cooking.
  • Onion / garlic is generally avoided.
  • Fruits are used in curries.
  • Vinegar is used as a souring agent.
  • Dhokadi ( a pasta) is used as a vegetable substitute.

Friday, April 04, 2008

1001 Uttaranchal Curries

::Uttaranchal Curries – A Primer ::
Sharing a border with Tibet and Nepal, the hilly and picturesque Uttaranchal (Meaning Northern region) has a distinct cuisine, so very different from regular north Indian cuisine. The Mogul cuisine which influenced most of north India has had little impact on the traditional cuisine of Uttaranchal.
In its two major regions, Garwahl and Kumaon, we find an array of delightfully different curries made from three basic building blocks -Lentils, Spinach and Yogurt. Unlike other parts of north India, rice remains the staple food in Uttaranchal.

The Curry base:
Pulses form the base for most curries. Horse gram, black soyabean and whole unhusked urad dal are the most popular pulses.
Roasted and powdered urad dal is mixed with water, spices and cooked into a thick curry called the Chainsoo. Use black soyabean instead of Urad dal and you have the Bhatwani.
Mixed dals are boiled in water, mashed, the solids filtered and the thin curry is cooked into a Ras. Add rice flour to thicken the Ras and you have the Thathawani.
A curry made from black soyabeans, thickened with rice flour is cooked into churdkani. Replace black soy beans with horsegram, and Churdkani becomes Fannah.

Yogurt is the next popular curry base. Yogurt thickened with rice flour is cooked into the Jholi. This is similar to the north Indian Kadi but for the fact that rice flour is used as a thickener and not gram flour. However, the use of dairy products is limited because this hilly land is not conducive to raising cows.
Ground mustard and turmeric is mixed in yogurt to make the Kumaoni Raita. It is only in Uttaranchal and West Bengal would you see the use of ground up mustard.

Spinach is also used as a curry base. Boiled and mashed spinach gives the Kafuli. Add yogurt to it and it becomes the Kappa. Unlike north Indian curries which use gram flour, Uttaranchal prefers rice flour as a thickener.

The extensive use of mustard oil gives Utatranchal curries a distinctive flavor. Spices like cumin, coriander, garam masala, chili powder, garlic and ginger are popular across the state. Unlike most north Indian curries, asafetida is extensively used.

Traditionally, each curry is cooked with a select few goodies. For example, a Jholi is usually cooked with spinach. Chainsoo, Kafuli, Phaanu or Kappa use no vegetables. But you can experiment by using your favourite goodies in any of these curries. Unlike other north Indian curries, tomatoes are used very sparingly. A specialty is the use of crushed veggies (mostly potatoes or radish) in curries. It is in Uttaranchal you’d see Marijuana leaves and seeds used in chutneys. A local spinach known as Bichhu Ghas is very popular.

Play with different combinations of bases, flavourings and goodies to cook up a huge variety of Uttaranchal curries.

If you spot an error or have a recipe to share, do leave a comment.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

1001 South Indian 'Variety Rice'

:. Variety Rice – A Primer .:
Variety rice or Kalavai Sadam ( Mixed rice) as it is known in Tamil is a popular travel dish. It is so popular among travelers that it is referred to as Kattu Sadam ( packed rice).Variety rice is just cooked rice mixed with flavouring and a variety of goodies to create a quick meal. Papad / Vadam / Pickles are served as accompaniments. Traditionally a dozen types of variety rice are normally cooked. This cookbook expands the definition to showcase many more varieties. The recipes in this table are arranged in increasing order of difficulty. Recipe number 000 is the simplest to cook and 999 the toughest.

If you have come here looking for traditional Kalavai Sadam / Variety rice, they are all here, but buried deep inside. Recipe numbers 711 – 718 covers traditional Variety rice – Coconut rice, lemon rice etc. Apart from the handful of traditional variety rice, hundreds more can be cooked by changing the base, flavouring and goodies used.

Change Base :
Don’t be shocked to see Puffed rice / Rice flakes listed here. These are just processed rice and can be used to create some of the easiest, tastiest and quickest rice dishes. Puffed rice is eaten as a staple food in parts of north Karnataka and Bengal. They require little or no cooking and so you can make your dishes in no time at all. It is a pity that the easy to cook, nutritious and cheap rice flakes / puffed rice do not enjoy the reverence accorded to the better marketed corn flakes / popcorn. Rayalaseema’s Buggani is nothing but a variety rice made using puffed rice. The Tamil Avil Uppuma is a variety rice prepared using rice flakes instead of rice. Replace cooked rice with rice flakes in Tamarind rice and you get Puli Avil.
The simplest ‘variety rice’ you can cook up is recipe number 000 which is just moist puffed rice mixed with Poriyals( dry vegetable curries), Podis ( Spicy lentil powders) or Pickles. This gives you a great tasting dish, but is not considered a traditional recipe, which usually calls for cooked rice.
Moving down the table, you can use different types of rice (Long grained / medium grained) Each will impart its own taste, texture and flavor to the dish.
Most rice is usually polished to give it the coveted pure white colour. This is at the cost of many nutrients and fiber in the outer layers getting polished away. Use unpolished rice and you get a dish which might not look great, but would be far more nutritious.

Most rice used in South India is parboiled rice (rice steamed in husk and dried). Though it takes longer to cook, it is more nutritious and easily digestible than raw rice. Stir frying rice imparts a nutty flavor and also prevents rice from sticking to each other.

There is an implicit assumption that certain kinds of recipes demand certain kinds of rice. For example, Basmati is not traditionally used for curd rice or tamarind rice, most probably because Basmati was just not available down south. Similarly, new varieties of rice like the Ponni and the Sona masoori were not available 50 years back. So the traditional recipes were not able to call upon these delightful varieties. But we now have easy access to a wide variety of rice from across the world. Rice is a favourite the world over and hundreds of delicious rice varieties are cultivated across the world. Fortunately, almost all these varieties are cooked the same way. Some may require a the use of bit more or less water, but do not let this trivial detail stop you from discovering the treasurehouse of rice. Experiment with many different varieties and cook up never-before-cooked variety rice.

Change flavouring :

Cooked rice tastes great with just about anything. Many ‘variety rice’ recipes call for no extra flavouring. Just add ghee to hot cooked rice and ghee rice is ready. Add boiled tuvar dal to ghee rice and you have Paruppu sadam, another favourite, though not recognized as a Kalavai Sadam. Mix in yougurt to cooked rice and Thayir sadam is ready. However, many other kinds of variety rices like coconut rice or lemon rice require extra flavouring as listed in column 2.
Flavouring for all kinds of variety rice is almost the same. A mixture of fried mustard, urad dal, chana dal, chili, asafetida and curry leaves form the basic flavouring. Nuts like peanuts / cashew may also be added. Different combinations of these spices and different methods of cooking them gives us scores of flavouring.

Change Goodies
Don’t be shocked to see Poriyals / Podis / Pickles listed in column 3. Any poriyal (dry vegetable curry), pickle or podi ( spiced lentil powder) mixed with rice gives a Kalavai Sadam, though these are traditionally not recognized as such. Apart from these, all the other goodies listed are traditional and are widely used.

Play by varying these building blocks to cook up a never ending variety of rice dishes. Be bold and experiment and you have enough variety rice recipes to last a lifetime.

And this goes to Easycrafts Variety rice event.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cook On Demand - Cooking for a crowd with no prior preparation.

The painful part in throwing a party is the hours spent in initial preparation and the heartburn when some of dishes go waste / untasted. So I have been working on a format which minimises the hassle - Cookout on Demand.

Absolutely nothing is prepared beforehand. The idea is to ask guests what they want, shop for only what's needed, cook it and give each guest what they'd asked for - all in under an hour.

The first COD was for Hagen and Inga from Germany, Brian from Canada and 3 other Madras Couchsurfers. It was a blast. Hagen had just discovered coconut chutney and had it with everything I cooked.

Yesterday we had our second COD. I had an interesting crowd - the budding author Kavitha, Morgane - a student from Paris, Vicki Milburn from Newcastle upon Tyne, the angelic Avery from Seattle, and the regulars - Rosh, Rajan and Kamal.

The only preparation I'd done was to boil a Kg of potatoes and buy a kg of wheat flour.

Kavitha and Morgane walk in and see me sharpening a wicked looking knife. The girls had a start ! After convincing Morgane I'm no Hannibal, we got on to the regular topics - on her couchsurfing experiences, favourite music and scams she'd been through. Soon, it was time for Cook on demand to start. Kavitha 'demands' stuffed parathas, Vicki and Morgane having never tried it, want the same. I enter the kitchen and get to work.

1. Knead a kg of flour - 7 minutes. Let it rest for 10 more minutes.
2. Peel and grate a cucumber, mix it with some yogurt and salt to make cucumber raita - 5 minutes
3. Mash up the boiled potatoes, mix in some salt, chili powder and garam masala and shape it into lemon sized balls - 5 minutes. By now the dough has rested enough.
4. Pinch off dough, shape into into a cup, add stuffing, seal it and roll it to a disc. - 2 minutes.
5. Cook on a hot skillet - 3 minutes.

So piping hot Aloo parathas from scratch in 20 minutes - the girls seemed to love it !

While they were eating, I blended some watermelon with a pinch of salt, a couple of spoons of sugar and a dash of lime juice. Strain and delicious watermelon juice was ready in under 2 mniutes.

Rosh walks in with some provisions - penne, frozen shrimps, frozen fish & chips, some cocktail sausages and a bottle of vodka. He asks for his favourite cocktail - Rosh Collins, which is a Tom collins with a long, slit - green chili serving as a swizzle stick. A round of cocktails later, it was cooking time again.

The easiest to cook were the sausages, which I cut up and stir fried with some oil, salt and chili powder. - 5 minutes

Defrost the shrimp, fish 'n' chips under running water

I then started on the marinara sauce - Add oil, sautee garlic, onions, tomatoes and red chilies and blend them to a paste. - 8 minutes

Boil water, and cook the pasta - 10 minutes

Heat a wok, add the sauce, add in the shrimp and cook for 4 minutes. One of the problems being a vegetarian is that I have to cook blind, never being able to taste or adjust seasonings when I'm cooking meat. So I had to have Kamal by my side to know when it is done. Once shrimp was done, I added in the pasta and thickened the sauce with corn starch - 8 minutes.

Meanwhile I heated up my super hot electric tandoor and baked the potato chips after drizzling them with oil. I then heated some oil and deep fried the defrosted fish. Fish and chips were ready in 5 minutes.

That fed Vicki, Kamal, Rosh and Avery but left Rajan who's allergic to shrimp.

Rajan wanted some Aloo paratha and I rolled one out for him, with cucumber raita - 3 minutes.

So there you go - Cooking on demand for 7 people, starting from scratch, takes less than a hour and a half, while having fun. I'm on a steep learning curve now and hope to reduce this time significantly.

So if you are in Madras on a sat, look at the Couchcurfing posts and walk in for the COD.

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Cooking is fun - Duplication is a pain !

"It is extraordinary to me that the idea of creating thousands of recipes by mixing building blocks takes immediately to people or it doesn’t take at all. .... If it doesn’t grab a person right away, ... you can talk to him for years and show him demos, and it doesn’t make any difference. They just don’t seem able to grasp the concept, simple as it is". ( Thanks Warren Buffett !)

"What's angering about instructions in many cookbooks is that they imply there's only one way to cook a dish - their way. And that presumption wipes out all the creativity." Cook dishes your way - Download  1001 South Indian curries now and learn to cook, not to duplicate ! ( Thanks Robert Pirsig !)

"Recipe purity is no different from racial purity or linguistic purity. It just does not exist. Cuisines are alive and change all the time. What is traditional today was esoteric just a few decades back. So being a 'foodist' is as bad as being a racist !

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
Okay, let me start from the very beginning. 1500 crore years ago, with a Big Bang, the Universe is born. It expands dramatically. Hydrogen forms, contracts under gravity and lights up, forming stars. Some stars explode, dusting space with the building blocks of life. These condense into planets, one of which is Earth. Over time, self replicating molecules appear, multiply and become more complex. They create elaborate survival machines (cells, plants, animals). A variety of lifeforms evolve. Soon, humans arise, discover fire, invent language, agriculture and religion. Civilisations rise and fall. Alexander marches into India. Moguls establish an empire. Britain follows. Independence. Partition. Bloodshed. The license raj is in full sway. I'm born. India struggles to find its place. Liberalisation. The Internet arrives! I move from Tirupur to Chennai. Start a company. Expand into Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East. Poof! Dot com bust. Funding dries up. Struggle. Retire. Discover the joy of cooking, giving, friendships and the pleasures of a simple life. Life seems less complicated. Pizza Republic, Pita Bite and Bhojan Express bloom !

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