Okra/Bendekai Majjige PaLadya

Summer is at its peak, the afternoon light is flooding our apartment and we have been coveting the usual suspects: drippy icecreams with oodles of dulce de leche and peanuts, churned milkshakes and cold pressed juices. However, those are reserved for yearnings of the sweet tooth. We are appeasing our savory tooth as well and there are some unusual suspects that make their presence rather frequently during the warm weather. I’m referring to yogurt -laden dishes and drinks that are significant fragments of everyday cooking in a South Indian home. Like mustard-tempered Buttermilk spiced with cumin, black salt and mint, a drink so strong, it manages to resist the most sweltering of days. Of course, there are the Raitas. A class of foods that are as satiating on their own as they are when coupled with a spicy rice dish.  I personally favor ones that contain chilled curd and swarming with grated cucumber or perhaps sauteed spinach or ever blistered tomatoes sprinkled with just a hint of chilli. And we mustn’t forget the HuLinuch,  a curd and cream of rice based soup that is ideal for a summer dinner. It’s light and soothing demeanor makes it a favourite at home. Finally, we come to the Majjige Paladya or HuLi.
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In Kannada, Majjige refers to buttermilk or curd and huLi or paladya refers to a spiced gravy. The gravy is coconut based which is then blended with Sour Curd and simmered with a vegetable of choice. White pumpkin, cucumber, spinach are commonly used in this South Indian dish and so is BENDEKAI (or Okra) which as you know implores for attention in today’s recipe. This dish is a common occurrence during weddings and other occasions where they are traditionally served up on large banana leaves.
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I have had and continue to have a delicious affair with okra/lady’s finger. When they are stir fried with crispy lentils(Chana dal) and perhaps some thinly sliced onions, they jazz up a simple Rasam rice meal. When they are swimming in a tomato & cream based gravy, they make for the perfect marriage with chapatis. However, what truly has me weak in the knees is when tender benDekai are stuffed with a masala chickpea flour(kaDlehittu/besan) and then shallow fried with onions and tomatoes. The recipe comes from my grandmother and I shamelessly admit  to the fact that it is a dangerous prospect for the husband when I make these because I’m a ruthless snacker when I cook these and half the pan is gone by the time the meal lands on the table!
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That said, these green vegetables become further more delicious when chopped, gently pan-fried and poured into the Maggige huLi. Their mild flavour entwines wonderfully with the sour curd and fresh coconut. Pour this gravy over hot rice with a spoonful of ghee and one forgets all impending worries for the day. Add some Papad and fried chilles to the equation and heaven will have come down to earth for just a few morsel-moments.
We get to the recipe now, hope you try it and like it!

RECIPE FOR BENDEKAI MAGGIGE PALADYA

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS
2-2.5 cups of Okra/Lady’s finger or Bendekai- Washed, wiped dry, chopped into 1″ pieces
1.5 tbsp of Oil(I use sunflower)
1/2cup + 2 tbsp thick sour/regular curd(not hung curd) whisked with 1 cup of water
2.5 tbsp Chana Dal, soaked for 30 min
3/4 cup  fresh, grated coconut
1 tsp Cumin seeds/jeera
1.5 tbsp Coriander seeds/Dhaniya
1″ slice fresh ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt to taste
1/4 cup of chopped coriander

For the tempering-
1tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
a handful of curry leaves(washed and dried)

3 -4 dried chillies (kindly see notes)
A pinch of hing or Asafoetida

METHOD
-In a large pan, add the oil and once it is heated, add the chopped benDekai/okra.
-Season with salt and let it cook. Resist the temptation to stir fry it too much as the okra can become very slimy.
-Remove from heat once softened. Keep aside.
-To make the gravy, in a blender or food processor, add fresh grated coconut, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ginger, chana dal and turmeric. Grind along with 1/2-3/4 cup of water until a coarse paste is achieved. 
-Add this blended mixture to medium sized pot along with 1 cup of water on medium low heat and bring to a simmer. Stir continuously to ensure that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan
-When the mixture comes to a slight boil, add the curd mixture, coriander, salt and the Okra. Keep an eye, stir often and when you spot a boil, remove from heat. Too much time on the heat can cause the yogurt to curdle, hence it is important to not let it boil completely.

-To make the tempering, in a small pan/taDka pan, add the oil. Once the oil heats up, add the mustard seeds and let them splutter. Add the BaLaka chillies and fry them until they are darkened, then add a pinch of hing and finally the curry leaves.
-Pour the tempering into the majjige huLi.
-Serve hot over rice and some ghee.

Notes:
-Sour curd is generally preferred for this dish but if not posssible, regular curd works just fine.
-The Chillies I have used for tempering are called BaLaka chilies and are yogurt based dried chillies. Their flavours pairs incredibly well with the Majjige huLi. You can use regular dried chillies as well but it can be much spicier than these.

Summer Romance: Mango Curd Tart

Meals are always sweeter in the summer. Oui?  Many summers ago, my uncle would bring crates of farm-grown unripened Raspuri mangoes ensuing my room being transformed into a safe-place for their ripening. Days later, the mangoes metamorphosed into soft fruits, fit to perk up lazy holidays. Amma(my mother) gathered more than a few every evening to conjure up ShreekarNe, a golden puree of mangoes with a touch of milk, a smattering of cardamom and a sprinkle of saffron. Pooris or rotis were mandatorily involved. Flaky, ghee laden rotis or puffed pooris were torn into, then dunked unhingedly into a bowl of ShreekarNe and just like that, a  simple dinner experience turned a tad sweeter, a tad celebratory. Like I said, meals are always sweeter in the summer.

In my books, a ShreekarNe remains to be the very best way to devour mangoes. Of course, carelessly chomping on them thereby concocting a sticky, happy mess qualifies as sane too. There’s something to be said about devouring them with no abandon; their sweet syrup trickling down; their juicy pulp satiating sweet desires on a dull, lazy, sunshine deluged afternoon. It culminates in a summer romance like no other.
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That said, I’m also on a perpetual quest to bake with them whilst not losing their soul to excessive sugar; to capture that essence and ineffable joy and pour it all into a decadent cake or a cheesecake or perhaps a luscious, chilled kulfi speckled with saffron threads . Toronto lacks Bangalore’s pulpy Raspuri mangoes but answers with plumper and just as juicy Altaufo mangoes. Fortunately, they are stacked up tall in the China Market and needless to say, the shop is religiously paid a visit over weekends.
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A couple of summers ago, driven by a spot of enthusiasm and adventure, I made a rich mango custard and piped them into elaichi cupcakes resulting in a gooey goodness with every bite. Earlier this year, when the mangoes first started to make an appearance, I entwined their flavour with a touch of vanilla into a simple Bundt cake, then doused it with a sweet mango syrup. Today, I present to you a silky, sweet Mango Curd Tart.
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This Mango Curd Tart screams of mangoes but additionally screams of summer too. A graham cracker crust cradles a smooth and rich vegan mango puree, which after refrigeration transpires into a cold, velvety dessert with the most delicate crunch. It comes together very quickly and is a no-bake as well. Admittedly, I was tempted to infuse it with other flavors; perhaps some basil or a sprinkle of cardamom but I restrained myself in order for the mangoes to dominate the dessert. The colors of this dessert are akin to those of sunshine and it satiates the most delicious summer dreams. Hope you like it as much as we did:)

RECIPE FOR NO BAKE MANGO CURD TART
Makes 1 9 inch Tart

INGREDIENTS
For the Crust
220 grams of Graham Crackers
110 grams of melted butter

For the Filling
1.5 cups Mango Puree( To make this, I took the pulp from 2 mangoes, blended it until smooth and then strained it into a medium saucepan)
1/2 cup water
7 tbsp Corn Starch
1 cup almond milk
1 cup granulated sugar

Others
Fresh fruits to decorate

Method
For the Graham Cracker Crust
-In a food processor, powder the graham crackers till they are fine. Mix them with the melted butter until you achieve a wet sand like consistency.
-Transfer this to the greased tart pan and press on the base and the sides with the help of a flat bottomed cup, to ensure that the crust is uniformly layered on the pan.
-Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

For the Vegan Mango Curd
-In a large saucepan or pot, add the mango puree(see ingredients) and water. Mix and place on medium heat. Let it simmer and reduce for a few minutes(3-4 minutes).
-While it is simmering, in a bowl, mix together the almond milk and cornstarch making sure there are no lumps.
-To the simmering mango puree,  add the sugar and stir. Let the sugar dissolve completely.
Once the sugar has dissolved completely, add the almond milk-cornstarch mixture and whisk continuously with a wooden spoon or a silicone spatula. It is important to whisk continuously because otherwise there will be lumps. Do this for 4-5 minutes or until the mango curd thickens. Immediately take it away from the heat and transfer to the chilled graham cracker crust. Smooth top if necessary and chill overnight.
It is ready to be sliced and enjoyed the next morning.

SanDige HuLi/Steamed Lentil Sambar

My grandmother’s sister lovingly referred to as Shanta Ajji lived in the west coast of the US during the later part of her life. During our brief sojourn in New Jersey, I remember indulging in long conversations with her over the phone when she would discuss her week’s activities but, more significantly, I remember her keen interest in my love for cooking; patiently educating a novice with the intricacies of authentic South Indian recipes (mostly involving the Madhwa Cuisine) and breaking down the complexities that haunted my ignorant mind. My culinary knowledge those days hardly amounted to anything but I possessed an enthusiasm and fervor(fortunately I still do) that prompted the above mentioned phonecalls where we tackled a gamut of recipes.
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The next summer, we road tripped along the West Coast, allowing ourselves to be awed by the brilliant grandeur of Las Vegas, the opulent mansions of Beverly Hills and the magnanimity of the Grand Canyon. It also entailed a short halt at San Jose to visit Shanta Ajji when she affectionately handed to me a copy of a cookbook written by her. The book is brimming with details of food that she laboriously & lovingly prepared for her family. She is sadly no more, however and unstintingly, this tome occupies a cherished place in my heart and the kitchen. The recipe I share with you today is hers, has been adapted from her cookbook and has managed to spice up mundane weekdays in the most delicious and soul-satisfying ways.
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Sandige HuLi is essentially a sambar or a stew that has swimming in its rich, coconut-laden gravy, little spheres made of lentils. In Kannada, these steamed spheres are referred to as ‘Sandige’ and the gravy itself is referred to as the ‘huLi’. The Madhwa dish garners a celebrity status of sorts and it lies in the fact that it is traditionally conjured up on the day before a wedding takes place(a ceremony called the Devarasamaradhane) and is served as per custom on a banana leaf coupled with hot rice and ghee. Together with the flavours emanating from the leaf, they create a gastronomical experience that is nothing short of divine.
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Let’s move on to the recipe without further ado. Do try it and let me know how you like it.

RECIPE FOR SANDIGE HULI
Serves 4
Special equipment- An Idli cooker

INGREDIENTS

For the Sandige or the Lentil Spheres
1 cup Toor Dal/Dried Pigeon peas(flat, yellow coloured lentils)
1 tsp fresh, grated Ginger
4 Green Chillies(feel free to reduce the quantity if you think it is too spicy)
1/2 cup Cilantro/Coriander leaves, roughly chopped
A pinch of Hing or Asafoetida
1/4 cup fresh, grated coconut
Salt to taste
For the HuLi
1 tsp Oil
1 tsp Urad dal
1 tsp Chana Dal
1.5 tsp Cumin seeds/Jeera Seeds
8-9 Byadgi MeNsinkai(Dry and wrinkled red chillies, please see Note)
1 Green Chili
1/2 cup Cilantro/Coriander leaves
A pinch of Hing/Asafoetida
2 tbsp Toor Dal/Dried Pigeon peas(flat, yellow coloured lentils)
3 tsp Coriander Seeds/Dhaniya seeds
1/2 cup fresh, grated coconut
3/4-1 tsp thick tamarind paste
1 tsp Jaggery
Salt to taste
Water
For the tempering
1 tbsp sunflower/vegetable oil
1.5 tsp Mustard Seeds
A handful of Curry leaves
3 dried red chillies
A pinch of Hing/Asafoetida

METHOD
To make the SanDige or Lentil Spheres, soak 1 cup of the toor dal for 3 hours atleast and drain the water.
-Keep aside 2 tablespoons of the soaked lentils and transfer the remaining into a blender/food processor along with the other ingredients:ginger, green chillies, cilantro, coconut and salt. Grind to a coarse paste using a tablespoon or two of water only if necessary.
-Make spheres from this coarsely grounded mixture, measuring the size of a lime. It can be shaped into spheres or elongated into an oval.
-Meanwhile get your Idli Cooker ready. Add enough water to the cooker, so that it doesn’t touch the idli stand and let it come to a boil. Grease the idli cavities with oil and place the sanDige in the cavities. Cover with the lid and steam for around 12 minutes.
-Once done, carefully remove from the cooker and let them cool.
-To make the huLi, in a small pan, heat 1 teaspoon of oil. To this add, urad dal, chana dal, byadgi chillies , a pinch of hing and cumin seeds. Fry them for a few minutes on low heat until the lentils turn golden brown. Once done, transfer to a plate and cool completely.
-Add the cooled mixture to a blender/food processor along with 1 Green Chili, Cilantro,
the 2 tbsp of soaked toor dal, Coriander Seeds/Dhaniya seeds and fresh, grated coconut. Blend into a smooth paste, adding approximately half a cup of water as well.
-Now, take a large, deep bottomed vessel and to this, add the paste along with 2 cups of water. Also add salt, tamarind paste and jaggery. Mix it all together and allow to come to a boil. Put off the stove and add the sanDige.
-For the tempering, add the oil in a small pan(tadka pan) and heat it. Once heated, add the mustard seeds, they wil splutter immediately. To this add the washed and dried curry leaves and dry red chillies. Fry till they’re crispy, around 20 seconds, and add to the sambar.
-Serve hot with rice and ghee.

Notes:
-Byadgi MeNsinkai is a long, dry red chilli that has a wrinkled appearance. They are not too spicy but feel free to alter the quantities as per your needs. The smoother dry red chilles, called as Guntoor can be very spicy so try to procure the Byadgi variety itself.
-The SanDige or steamed lentil spheres can be eaten as a snack as well, perhaps with a side of ghee and coconut chutney
-The dish tastes even better the next day(provided it is refrigerated) since the sanDige’s would have absorbed all the spices from the sambar.