22 May 2007

Papad ki Subzi

One advantage of living in the backwoods is that you tend to be quite innovative. People had told me before I moved here that life in Japan wasn't easy for a vegetarian. And these were people who used Osaka, Kobe and Tokyo as a benchmark. But nothing prepared me for this little town. Vegetable choices are rather limited throughout the year. For someone who spent the last 5 years in Singapore, where every veggie was available all through the year, this was a bit of a challenge.

But there is a silver lining to every cloud. The one really wonderful good to come out of this is that, A, the ultimate gourmet, is willing to try anything new. With very little fuss. Of course, I still can't get him to eat karela or soya chunks, but he's not half as fussy as he used to be.

There are days when I look at the veggies I have at home, and want something totally new to eat. Those are the days when I'm totally in the mood for something new.... anything new. One of those days my mind went into a kind of trance. I thought:
What dish I was most in the mood to eat: pittla.
What did I like best about it: the texture of papads soaked in the pittla base.
Does A like papads: yes.
Does A like the texture of soaked papads: yes.
Will A eat most veggies in his favourite onion-tomato gravy: yes.
What can go wrong: not much.
What's the worst that could happen: Leftovers.
The odds sounded good, and I thought to myself, "nothing ventured nothing gained".

And fortifying myself with that other pithy homilies, I went forth to do battle. I whipped up my favourite gravy, fried up some papads, broke them, stirred them into the hot gravy, let it soak, and served it up with rice.

First thing A asked was expected. "What on earth is this?"... I tried to explain in detail, but he cut me short. "Basically you're telling me there's papads, onion and tomatoes in this, right? Then it can't be too badly messed up, what?"

How can I ever argue with such brilliant logic??

The verdict was favourable too. I didn't have ANY leftovers. I couldn't ask for more, could I?

Papad ki Subzi
serves 2

4 medium sized papads (fried and broken into medium sized pieces)
1 large onion (sliced fine)
1 large tomato (sliced)
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 pinch hing
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp garam masala/kitchen king
salt to taste
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

Heat 2 tbsp oil and temper with cumin seeds and hing.
Add onion slices, and fry till lightly browned.
Add tomato slices, and cook till oil separates.
Add all spice powders and stir for 2 mins.
Adjust salt to taste.
Add papad pieces to gravy and stir.
Take pan off heat, and transfer contents to serving bowl.
Garnish with coriander leaves.
Cover and keep aside. Let the papads soak for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Serve hot.

Garlic or other such spiced papads work best. Plain appalams will do in a pinch, but the masala varieties are awesome.
Do fry papads for this one. For some reason, plain roasted or microwaved papads just don't soak in the gravy the way fried ones do.

13 May 2007

Grilled Pepper Sandwiches

Ever craved for a warm, easy to make snack on a rainy day? Something that doesn't take too much effort?

Here's what I came up with during one of my recent snack attacks. I had some leftover soup, and wanted something heavier to go with it. A sandwich seemed the best option. I had some lovely peppers, and some hot-dog buns, and made up this quick sandwich. It turned out quite well. Next time, I want to try slices of other grilled veggies to go with it. I wonder what would work well....

Grilled Pepper Sandwiches

2 capsicums (any colours)
2 hot-dog buns
2-4 slices of cheese
2 boiled eggs (sliced)
Salt & Pepper

Char the capsicums over a gas flame (or in a broiler) until blackened on all sides.
Put in a paper bag and keep aside for 10 minutes.
Peel the charred skin off the capsicums and deseed. Cut into strips and keep aside.
Preheat oven to 140C
Slit buns. Fill with cheese, capsicums, boiled egg slices, and season with mustard, salt and pepper.
Wrap each sandwich tightly in aluminium foil, and put in the oven for 5 minutes.
Serve hot.

It's not absolutely essential to wrap sandwiches in foil, but it does prevent the crust of the buns from charring.
Boiled egg is optional.

Minty-tangy Onion Relish

I can't think of anyone who dislikes onion relish. It does add a certain dash as a condiment with north Indian food. What if the same onions are served with a minty dressing? The result is absolutely fabulous. Hot, minty, tangy and totally yummy. Goes great with Biriyani... just remember to make a generous quantity. It disappears faster than the eye can see.

Minty Onion Relish
makes about 4 cups

2 large onions (sliced fine)
2 cups mint leaves
1 cup coriander leaves
1 green chili
1 tsp jeera powder
2 tbsp grated coconut
1 marble sized ball of tamarind
2 tbsp hot water
salt to taste

Wash and clean the coriander and mint leaves.
Soak tamarind in about 2 tbsp hot water. Dissolve and extract as much juice as possible. Strain and keep aside.
Add all ingredients except the onions, and grind to a fine paste.
In a serving bowl, combine sliced onions, and the mint-paste.
Cover with cling film, and chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

More green chilis may be added, depending on taste.
Dessicated coconut works well, but nothing like fresh coconut of you can get some.

06 May 2007

Guilt-free Dessert

Once upon a time yours truly would go on dessert binges. When I say binge, I mean binge. Still skeptical?? Hmmm... let me see... There was this time a friend and I were celebrating our very first salaries. And we decided that nothing less than a total splurge would suffice! And we had this multi course lunch. We ordered the entire dessert menu at our favourite restaurant for lunch, and then went to our favourite ice cream parlor for dessert.

Those were also the days when I used to run. And my favourite pair of jeans never had to strain to accommodate all that dessert. To cut a long story short, those days are now fond history. These days I just have to look at a dessert and last years jeans scream out in horror... "no, no, no more please!"

Now that I'm experimenting with low-fat sugar-free foods, this seemed a good time to make something I've wanted to try for ages. Thick yogurt and fruit, sans sugar.

I'm big fan of flavoured yogurts. I love shrikhand and mishti doi. Store bought flavoured yogurt is fine too, but I always wished the texture could be creamier. And since my friendly neighbourhood vegetable store's shelves are full of fruit these days, this seemed to be the right time to try out this dessert.

Active time is quite little: drain yogurt for 2 hours. Cut as many fruits as you wish to add, stir the residue till smooth, top with cut fruits, and voila, dessert's up!

Verdict: light, cool, yummy, and guilt free. The little one too had her share, and didn't ask for sugar or honey to go with it!

Creamy Yogurt with Fruit
Serves 6

10 cups yogurt
2 cups strawberries, halved
1 cup grapes
1 cup pineapple chunks

Set a colander over a large bowl and line colander with a muslin cloth.
Pour yogurt into colander and let it drain in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
Transfer the yogurt in the colander to a serving bowl.
* Stir gently till smooth.
Garnish with fruits.
Chill till ready to serve.

* Optional
Add 1 or 2 tbsp honey or powdered sugar to the yogurt while stirring.

The volume of curd reduces after draining. So for each 1-cup serving, you'll need about twice the volume of fresh yogurt.
If using low-fat or 2% yogurt, 1 hour draining time is enough.
Oranges, apples and banana slices can also be used.

05 May 2007

A spoonful of sugar

I can't think of anyone who would refuse a little sweet something after a meal. There's a child in everyone of us who eagerly anticipates dessert after dinner, a treat on an outing, and of course, a birthday cake.

And there are also loved ones in every family who, due to diabetes, are denied that small pleasure. My father-in-law too belongs to that group. He's also the sort who prefers to keep his sugar levels under control with a strict diet, and a bare minimum of medication.

Ever since we got married, at every festive occasion my f-i-l has been the only one to forgo the sweet course. I always felt bad that he had to miss out on the best part of every meal.

For a while now I've had this idea that I should experiment with sugar-free desserts, and this year, I've done so. For the Tamil new year, I made a special semiya paayasam. And recently, a nice badam kheer. Those are for another post.

Last week was his birthday, and this time I was determined that he should have a birthday cake. And This was what he got.

A sugarless sponge, topped with whipped cream and strawberries. And the best part, it had just one teaspoon of sugar. Yes, just a single teaspoon of sugar in that entire cake.

Now the kicker: the verdict. F-i-l liked it, as it met all his dietary criteria. And that it was a birthday cake he could eat to his heart's content. Everyone else thought it was .. hmmm... not sweet. But the person it was intended for appreciated it :)

Would you like to try it out??

Sugarless Strawberry Sponge

2 large eggs (separated)
1 tsp powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla essence
4 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup whipping cream
fruits for garnish

Sift flour and baking powder thrice.

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C.
Grease and dust a 18cm diameter round tin (or equivalent).
Beat egg yolks, vanilla essence and 1/2 tsp sugar till very pale, and beaters start to leave a ribbon trail when lifted.
Beat egg whites with 1/2 tsp sugar till stiff peaks hold.
Add egg whites to the yolks, little at a time, folding gently after each addition.
Gently fold in the flour.
Bake for 15 minsutes, or till tester inserted into cake comes out clean.
Remove cake from tin and cool completely.

Whip cream.
Spread over sponge, and garnish with fruits.