Back to basics - Garam Masala

Up until a few years ago if I came across a recipe with garam masala as an ingredient, I'd just open a packet at random and toss in a teaspoon. Then I'd wonder why the dish never tasted authentic enough.

Enlightenment finally dawned with the help of Madhur Jaffrey. When I got her book for the first time and browsed through the glossary, I realized I was doing everything wrong. Make your own garam masala and make it fresh were Jaffrey's first instructions. Why? Because packaged garam masala contains more of the cheaper spices like cumin and coriander instead of the expensive ones like cardamom and cloves. So much for authenticity!

Since then I use the masala liberally whenever a recipe calls for it. Sometimes even if the recipe doesn't call for it because I love the aroma! There are a few things I am grateful to Jaffrey for - teaching me to eat turnips for example, or making the perfect rogan josh but this garam masala tops the list by far.


(adapted from this recipe by Madhur Jaffrey)
(makes about 3 tbsps)
1 tbsp cardamom seeds
1 2" cinnamon
1 tsp black cumin (shahjeera)
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp peppercorns
1/4 nutmeg

Powder spices in a clean, dry coffee or spice grinder until smooth. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

* In Prashad, Jiggs Kalra has a separate garam masala for curries, meat and mild dishes! It has either fennel, mace, ginger etc. Similarly Sanjeev Kapoor adds large cardamom (badi elaichi). All are aromatic spices and I am sure one can play around for combinations. In my opinion, those spices are good-to-add while the above six are must-add.

Recipes with this garam masala -
Pindi Chana
Paneer Tawa Masala
Hara Cholia Te Paneer

* Entry for A Spoonful of Christmas hosted by Zlamushka's Spciy Kitchen



Get together grub - Gobi ka Kheema

This Diwali was over before we knew it. For the first time we had many family and friends close by so we were busy either hosting a party or going to one. At one such dinner we were served a dish that not only tasted great but sounded it too - Gobi ka kheema.

My immediate thought was to get the recipe so I could blog about it! But the party was a raucous and chaotic affair and finding a quiet moment with the host was out of question.

Coming home, I googled for the recipe and after a couple of hits and misses with soy chunks and paneer, landed on this page. The recipe seemed a close approximation of what I had eaten. I modified it a little and relished the dish all over again. If you want to steer clear of koftas and paneer for your next party, give this kheema a shot. You won't be disappointed.


GOBI KA KHEEMA (Minced Cauliflower)
(adapted from this recipe)
(serves 2-3 as a main)
1 medium cauliflower
1-2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 onions, grated or pulsed in a blender
1 tsp ginger garlic paste
2-3 tomatoes, blanched & pureed*
1/2 cup peas
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
salt to taste
1 tbsp cream (optional) and finely chopped cilantro for garnish

Separate cauliflower into large florets and grate coarsely in a food processor or by hand. Heat oil in a saucepan. Add cauliflower and saute for 8-10 minutes. Continue sauteeing until the florets turn golden brown. Set aside.

Heat oil and add bay leaf and cumin seeds. When seeds sizzle, add grated onion. Stir for a few minutes then add ginger garlic paste. Continue stirring until onions lose moisture completely and don't smell raw.

Reduce heat and add tomato puree. Mix well. Add chilli powder and peas. Season to taste.

When gravy starts to simmer, add cauliflower. Ensure it is well coated with spices. Cook for 5-7 minutes on moderate heat to reduce sauce. Add garam masala and mix well. Garnish with cilantro and top with cream if preferred. Serve hot with naan or paratha.

* I used this tomato gravy. I have written about it before - it's pure magic!
* The kheema got me thinking about its potential uses. A little binding with flour and one could use it to make meatballs, tikkis or add to a pulao.



Clicking Noodles

Last month I didn't get the time to shoot eggs but this time I was determined to make it to Click. So here is some spinach & chives linguine for you. This is right now one of my favorite products at Trader Joe's. I am not paid by TJs for advertisement but I really wouldn't mind it since I love almost everything they stock :-)




Let there be 'peas'

This dish has many, many memories attached to it. On our annual trips to Goa, we couldn't eat fish until we had visited all temples. And it invariably used to be a short trip because we had to head to my uncle's home soon after. So consider this -
seafood lovers + seafood paradise + (4 to 5 temples x 1-2 rituals each) - no seafood = really cranky seafood lovers!!

I am exaggerating of course. It wasn't that bad. Contrary to popular perception Goa has amazing vegetarian fare to offer and we didn't feel deprived at all. I remember we used to eat this peas curry with freshly baked buns and it was sheer bliss! Goa's bread deserves a post of its own. Poetry can be written on the subject and it would still not be enough. (See Mahek's post).

This curry is an example of how legumes are cooked in the region of Malwan/ Goa. Roasted coconut, use of whole spices like cinnamon & cloves and the distinct lack of bedgi chillies sets this cuisine apart from its Kanara counterparts (though there are exceptions on both sides, so no angry emails please!).

The recipe is a specialty of my mother's side and my 'maushi' (aunt) especially excels in making it. When family get togethers had to be strictly vegetarian, 'hirvya vatanyachi amti' was the unanimous choice. Only my aunt insisted on calling it 'popti vatanyachi amti' (parrot green peas curry)!

green peas

(serves 2-3)
1 cup dry green peas*
1/2 of a medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp tamarind paste or 3-4 kokum
salt to taste
Masala -
1/2 tsp oil
1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
5-6 peppercorns
3-4 dried red chillies
1" cinnamon
2 cloves
3/4 cup grated coconut
remaining 1/2 of onion, sliced
Seasoning -
mustard seeds
curry leaves

Soak green peas in water overnight. Drain and add just enough water to submerge. Combine with chopped onion and cook until soft (but holding their shape). Set aside.

Heat oil in a skillet and roast the coriander seeds, chillies, cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns. Set aside. Add sliced onion and coconut and roast till golden. Grind everything to smooth paste with a little water.

Heat a sauce pan with oil. Add mustard seeds, curry leaves and asafetida. Add cooked peas and masala. Adjust consistency of the curry with water and still until everything is well combined.

Add tamarind/ kokum and season to taste. Bring to a boil and serve with bread, these buns or rice.

* You can use fresh green peas too, if you find the non sweet kind
* This masala is very versatile; use it for 'chawli' (black eyed peas), 'moong' (green gram sprouts) and the other famous dish from the region - 'kale vatane' (dry black peas)



More power to 'Powerless' Cooking - Rasayan

When EC's mixer went on the fritz for a few days what did she do about it? Start a blog event of course! 'Powerless cooking' is an one-off event that she is hosting to encourage us to cook without the aid of electrical appliances.

Since most of the recipes on this blog begin with the words "grind the coconut to a smooth paste", you'd think I'd be at a loss here. Not so. There a few dishes in our cuisine that not only do not require grinding, but in fact do not require any cooking at all (yes, that's what I said). They were meant for the sultry summer days when working behind a stove was difficult for the woman of the house. And they were usually yogurt or milk based to cool the body.

EC has allowed us the use of electric stoves, but I decided to challenge myself further and make a no-cook dish ie. no switching on the stove. Rasayan came to mind immediately - a kheer made with coconut milk and fruit. If that isn't different enough, it has jaggery instead of sugar for added exoticism.


KHARBUZA RASAYAN (Honey dew melon Kheer)
(serves 2-3)
1 cup cantaloupe*/ banana/ mango/ jackfruit, cubed (yes the fruit has to be cubed - don't let the photo mislead you!!)
1 cup coconut milk
1-2 tbsp grated jaggery or to taste
1/4 tsp cardamom powder

Dissovle jaggery in coconut milk. Combine with melon cubes and cardamom powder. Chill until ready to serve.

* Cantaloupe or musk melon is commonly used in rasayan. I made do with honeydew because that's what I found in the market
** Variation - add a handful of thin poha to rasayan

Other 'power-less' dishes on my blog -
Goad Phov (Sweet poha)
Kalayle Phov (Spicy mixed poha)
Tival or Sol kadhi (Kokum saar)


Season's Eatings - Khajur Halwa

Since Vee has continued her tradition of hosting JFI Diwali (and breaking all the rules!), I decided to continue mine; posting an easy, hassle free Diwali dish. Last year it was Moong Dal Ladoo, this year it's Khajur Halwa.

Okay so it's not originally hassle free. The authentic, mom version is quite labor intensive - cooking the dates in milk until it solidifies into a mass. But the (lazy) daughter version considerably cuts down on the slogging behind the stove by using khoya.

No matter which method you use, you will love this creamy, subtly sweet (no sugar yay!) halwa redolent with the goodness of dates. If you still aren't convinced let me add it uses only a tablespoon of ghee.

khajur halwa

(serves 3-4)
3/4 cup dates, pitted and chopped
1 cup khoya (mawa)*, crumbled or grated
1-2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp ghee, melted
a pinch of cardamom powder
a pinch of nutmeg powder (optional)
chopped cashews and pistachios, for garnish

(If you find it difficult to chop the dates pop them in the fridge for a while. Mind your fingers!)
Soak chopped dates in a little water for 5 minutes. Drain and grind into a paste.

Heat a non stick pan, add date paste and stir on moderate heat. When the mixture starts to bubble a bit, add grated khoya, honey and cardamom & nutmeg powders. Spoon ghee along the edges, increase heat slightly and stir until everything is combined into a homogenous mass. Time for some elbow grease - keep stirring like crazy!

Make sure the halwa doesn't brown or stick to the bottom of the pan. When the halwa can be collected into a ball, it's ready. Fry nuts in a little ghee. Sprinkle over halwa and serve hot or cold.

* You can either buy readymade khoya or make it at home using condensed milk, ricotta cheese or milk powder.
* You can make date ladoos or burfis by cooking the halwa longer. Garnish with dessicated, unsweetened coconut for texture.



Blog Hopping & a Bharta

Far from biryanis and koftas, when I am blog hopping (really, who coined this term? It makes us all sound like rabbits!), I am actually always on the lookout for recipes I can cook on weekdays. It is when I am staring at the crisper in the fridge without an inkling of how to use up the zucchini or ridge gourd that I need inspiration from my friends. Here are a few recipes that came to my rescue.

Before you shake your heads in disbelief that we eat nothing but gourds let me add that these recipes have been tried over the last several weeks and I couldn't help but devote an entire post to them!

Ridge gourd with Pathrode (patra) - I'd never have thought of combining the two. But Richa did. All I can say is go ahead and make this rightaway - it's just the most delicious way to eat ridge gourd.

Another day, another unique combination - Musical's equally tasty Zucchini Paneer Subji.

Nupur's recipes are so precise I follow them blindly. And they never fail me. This Maharashtrian style preparation of ridge gourd with peanut powder has joined our favorites list (along with her Chavli amti and Paneer pulao).

Everytime I read an authentic Coorgi recipe on Asha's blog it transports me to a coffee plantation or coconut farm. I had been meaning to try several recipes from her blog but it was the Bottle gourd & Chana dal curry that tempted me the most. We loved the dish - it tasted familiar to our palate because of the coconut, yet different because of the poppy seeds.

And finally here is a bharta from my own kitty. Unlike eggplant, gourd or pumpkin is not roasted but steamed lightly. I faintly remember my grandmother making a hole in the centre of the pan and placing embers from the stove (chulha) to infuse the dish with a smoky flavor. I make do with browning the gourd a little. This changes the taste of the otherwise bland veggie.


GARDUDHE BHART (Bottle Gourd Bharta)
(serves 2-3)
1 bottle gourd (or pumpkin, squash etc)
1-2 green chillies
2-3 tbsp coconut
about 1/2 cup yogurt, beaten
1 shallot, finely chopped
Seasoning -
nustard seeds
curry leaves
Garnish -
finely chopped cilantro

Peel and dice gourd into large cubes (scoop out seeds if tough). Combine with 1/4 cup of water in a non stick saucepan and cook till soft and lightly browned at the bottom. Mash cubes lightly with a fork.

Grind coconut and green chillies to a coarse paste (don't add water). Add to gourd along with chopped onion and yogurt. Mix well. Season to taste.

Prepare a tadka with seasoning ingredients and pour over bharta. Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.