Let there be Dal: Gujarati Dal with Green Pea and Coconut Dumplings

Rewinding to languid Bangalore afternoons, when I was younger in a younger city. The sun washing the sand splashed grounds of college. Amid the frenzied flutter that the final years of college demanded, the one constant was my stainless steel lunch dabba. Plain toor dal, rice, salt, jaggery  and unmeasured quantities of ghee tied together into an epitome of comfort. Tovve anna in Kannada or Dal rice in English. On rare occasions, it would be spiked with raw chilles, coriander and perhaps a splatter of mustard and hing tadka. Those few minutes of lunch break dwindled before I knew it, mostly plagued by a string of worrisome thoughts about the remaining day. But devouring this meal was my present moment, my moment of unfettered, happy calm. I’m as drawn to the simplicity of this dish as I am to the  uncomplicated memories that follow in its trail. Long story short, I love tovve-anna and have never shied away from celebrating Dal and its many avatars.
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Understandably, tovve-anna makes its divine presence fairly often. Aside from that. simple dals emboldened with cucumber or ridgegourd or capsicums are consisitent too. A North- Indian version with spices, onions and tomatoes and a seducing tadka is more a fortnighly scene. Dal Makhni with its protein rich lentils and oodles of butter is a rare visitor. My kitchen has also witnessed a Rajasthani Panchmel Dal albeit only in one instance. Another dish that has made a debut is Gujarati Dal Dhokli that I learnt from a friend and is conjured on similar lines as the one I’m about to share with you today. This week, I decided to broaden my horizon a little bit more. Perhaps indulge in something a little more audacious!
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 Anjum Anand’s wonderful creation,  ‘Indian Vegetarian Feast’ was just the the book that needed a break from its long hiatus in our bookshelf. Her book is brimming with curries and warm dishes that winter nights demand so fiercely. This beauty of a dal is no different. It is subtly sweet owing to jaggery  and awfully comforting. The dumplings are made with wholewheat and stuffed with peas and coconut, almost a melt-in-the-mouth experience when dunked in dal.
Poured over rice or daliya this dish can be thoroughly satisfying but it easily transforms into a hearty winter soup. Ladle into a big bowl and devour as is. 
Only a few changes in my version: fresh coconut replaced dry coconut and roasted peanuts were added without restraint. Also, the original recipe has included the addition of kokum, a fruit that lends a sour flavour but since I didn’t have any I’ve relied on my good friend, the tamarind.
Hope you like this dish as much as we did:)
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RECIPE FOR GUJARATI DAL WITH GREEN PEA AND COCONUT DUMPLINGS
INGREDIENTS
For the Dal:
1 cup split pigeon peas or Toor Dal, washed
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 large tomato, chopped
2 tbsp jaggery
3/4 inch of ginger, peeled and grated
a pinch of chilli powder(add more if you want the dish to have more heat)
2 tbsp roasted peanuts(or more), crushed coarsely
2 tbsp ghee
1/4 tsp asafoetida
4 cloves
2 tbsp ghee
8 dried kokum, soaked(optional)
1/2 ts p each of mustard and cumin seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
10 curry leaves
1 tsp readymade tamarind paste or soak a tsp of tamarind in hot water and squeeze out the thick juice
Salt to taste

For the Dough
1/2 cup wholewheat or chapati flour
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ajwain or carom seeds
1 tbsp vegetable oil

For the Filling
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp ghee
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp fresh or dry coconut( I used fresh)
an inch of ginger- peeled and grated

METHOD
-First, the split pigeon peas or toor dal needs to be cooked soft. They can either be pressure cooked or boiled in a large vessel. Either way, add two times the water along with turmeric and a few drops of oil. Cook until completely mushy. Then, using a stick blender, puree until smooth.
(If using a vessel to cook it, cover it partially and keep an eye. Sometimes the water water may spill over)
-Next, make the dough by mixing together all the ingredients listed. Knead until soft and elastic. Keep aside by covering with a wet cloth.
-Thirdly, the filling is prepared. Boil the frozen peas in salted water until completely soft. Drain the water and mash either with a wooden spoon or cool completely and blend in a mixer. To the mashed peas, add grated ginger and fresh grated coconut. Then, in a little pan(tadka pan), heat ghee and add mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add it to the peas mixture and keep aside.
-To the pureed dal/lentils, add the chopped tomato, jaggery, peanuts, chilli powder, salt and tamarind and simmer for 10 minutes in low heat.
-Meanwhile, prepare the dumplings. Divide the dough into 9 or 10 portions. Take one, roll into a little ball and then roll into a thin 3 inch circle all the while. Use some extra wholewheat flour to keep it from sticking to the countertop or rolling pin.
Take 1 tablespoon of the filling, place on one half of the circle. Using your finger line the entire edge of the circle with a little water and fold one half over the other, tightly pressing on the seams and making sure the filling is well within the dumpling.
Make all the dumplings this way and keep aside.
-Add about 1 cup or 1.5 cups of water to the dal and thin it down. The amount of water may vary depending on how thick you like your dal. To this, add the dumplings and let them cook for about 5-7minutes or until done. Important to note that the dumplings should be added to the dal just before serving or else they may disintegrate and turn mushy.
Finally, add the tadka or tempering. In the same tadka pan used above, heat more ghee and add to it cloves and cinnamon. Also add cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and asafoetida. Add curry leaves that have been washed and dried well with a cloth or tissue. Once the mustard seeds splatter and the curry leaves have crisped up, add the tempering to the dal and serve hot.

Khara Biscuits & My Love-Hate Relationship with Sugar

Rosy as it may seem, my relationship with sugar like any other is flawed. Sweet yet oddly imperfect.
I hail from a family that is ravenous for sugar and the clan has rightly  realized that its absence will only add to the existing pandemonium. Hence, we give in to its captivity. Be it the amber hued jaggery syrup that is made specially for dosas to diligently mop up or those surreptitious, midnight thefts of of chocolate or those weekend dessert projects bustling in the kitchen, such as Holige( Sweet Rotis)  and the likes or that generous chunk of jaggery stirred into every single savory dish, we love “the sweet life” and life without it is imagined to be listless, dark and sullen. I finally have a reason for my foray into the cozy, hygge-ligt world of baking. It is that “sweet”gene rampant in my cells that yells and throws unbearable tantrums until I give in.
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Until a few years ago….
For a year almost in 2014-2015, I gave up on sugar. Completely. The first couple of weeks were every bit as cringe-worthy as was suspected. A world painted in color turned gray. I felt myself at sea most times, dubious about my decision. Every smile, I found, was peppered with a sad note. The romance that had me exuberant and invigorated had come to an end(albeit temporarily) and I was heartbroken.
The good news: it lasted only a week or two. Once I swam the rough waters, the calm was an unexpected surprise. The cravings bid adieu and to put it very bluntly, I lost interest. Those hardworking sugar-coveting tastebuds were probably happier in hibernation and my body was thrilled to bits with the ongoing  detox. And, gray didn’t seem like such a bad colour.  Might I add, I still reveled in the bliss of baking and very often. I just didn’t eat those treats, nor was I tempted to give in. The powers of the mind and body  are magical, I learnt.
Admittedly, there are days when I’ll be caught binging unstintingly on sweet treats but most days I resort to portion control or zero intake.
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These cookies are devised precisely for those days. They are called Khara(spicy in Kannada) Biscuits and since Iyengar Bakeries are non-existent in my part of the world, I resort to overworking my battered oven quite often.
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The recipe has been adapted from the wonderful Chitra Agarwal’s ‘Vibrant India‘, the book brimming with memories and food, redolent of good times from Bangalore, a common home between us. For me, the collection occupies a special place for reasons aplenty but some take priority:
– While the traditional Palyas , gojjus & Chitra-annas make their presence, some are twisted beautifully, and yet strongly rooted to tradition. Like her Apple Pie Kadabu’s, where apple pie fillings fragrant with autumnal spices substitutes the coconut filling that is traditionally opted.

– I always assume(with the risk of my imagination running wild), that recipes for Congress Kadlekai(spiced peanuts) and Khara biscuits ( both quintessentials in a Bangalore Iyengar Bakery) lie scribbled in some old, tattered pages, cloistered into a crevice of the bakery’s walls. Lucky that the author includes recipes for these as well. Many miles away, my kitchen is alive with the scents of the streets of Bangalore.

-And finally, despite having grown up and well acquainted with a gamut of dishes from the book, it is the aura of Bangalore that it drapes so well, the manner it magically mirrors the culinary saga of my elders that, coerces me into lending this treasure trove of flavour-bound recipes a place in my kitchen nook.

The cookies you see here are bite sized and slightly softer unlike the original crispy variant, equally delicious nonetheless. They are richly fragrant with Mint, Curry Leaves and Lime leaves. They are heavily laden with nostalgic memories from Bangalore & a sharp, tangy cheddar cheese. I do hope you like this one!
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{Before we move on the recipe, I just want to add that I’m no health expert and my desire/disinterest in sugar is purely my personal choice. I do not suggest in any way that this recipe is a “health/healthy food” OR Diabetic friendly.}

RECIPE FOR CHEDDAR & HERB SHORTBREAD COOKIES (KHARA BISCUITS)
(Adapted from Chitra Agarwal’s, Vibrant India’)

INGREDIENTS
1/4 th cup unsalted butter(at room temperature)

1.5 tsp sugar
2 tbsp plain yogurt
1/2 tsp salt
1 green chilli, finely chopped
10-12 curry leaves, finely chopped
1-2 dried lime leaves, finely chopped(optional)
1/4 cup mint leaves,finely chopped
1 cup all purpose flour/sifted whole wheat flour
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Method
– In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar by hand. Add the salt, herbs, green chillies and yogurt and mix.

– Then add the flour, grated cheddar and milk. Very gently bring all the ingredients together into a dough.
– Roll this into a log and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour.
– In the meantime, preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
– Slice the dough into 1/4 inch thick slices and arrange them on the cookie sheet.
– Bake for around 18-22 minutes and cool completely.
Notes:
1) The author has included coriander leaves in these shortbread cookies which also lend a wonderful flavour.

Diaries from an Italian Summer….Farewell Roma

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”, I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions and the city of yearning.”
– Giotto Di Bondone  (Italian Painter)
August 13th, 2016
We weren’t about to repeat blunders and discard time amid staggering tourist lines. I don my horse blinkers in the hope to keep away from the usual albeit veritable distractions. Minutes from our Air Bnb, we plop ourselves in a taxi, groggily requesting to drop us off at St. Peter’s Cathedral. It is 6 am. The sun has just availed himself from his sanctuary after a long night’s endure and the sprawling aurora sky is reverberating with a soft, orange hue. The cathedral & Michelangelo’s soaring dome are painted in warm tones, almost fiery. In respect to the Pantheon, the Florentine sculptor made his dome 5 feet shorter across saying, “I could build one bigger but not one more beautiful than the Pantheon.”
In the vast expanse of  the Piazza San Pietro, are standing two souls. Hopeful, grateful. One, infinitely elated, clicking buttons at the rate of 100/minute, in the quest to make the best of the Golden hour. The other, equally overwhelmed and in the hope to imbibe this ephemeral experience to perpetuity.
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The piazza is desolate for the moment, save for security guards who are indulged in cigarette drags. Nuns scurry past us as they scrupulously gauge my attire. The morning din seems like a far cry for now but the city is slowly gearing up.
The piazza  facing the cathedral illudes as boundless, flanked by fountains on either side of a soaring central Egyptian Obelisk. Encircling the square are two colonnades extending from either side of the facade. Hundreds of columns, sparsely separated, they masquerade as colossal but in reality they are simply affectionate embracing arms. We stand in line to witness the grandeur of St. Peter’s Cathedral. Apparently copious amounts of research coupled with my imaginative skills failed to prepare me for the splendor we were about to encounter.
Our early rise proved successful for the church is uncrowded giving the husband a chance to capture it’s infinite beauty. I wordlessly walk along the nave, amid low murmurs and a soft haze of sunlight travelling through the windows, basking in the unfazed calm. A silence that is not, in the least bit, unnerving.
Magnanimity aside, it is the masterpieces by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Lorenzo Bernini and others that we’re here to etch our memories with.  Although they’re but, a microscopic glimpse of art tethered to the past, it certainly is thoroughly pleasing to the soul.
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Top Right: Bernini’s Baldacchino, Lower Right: Michelangelo’s Pieta

Fortunately, there’s more because the next stop happens to be Musei Vaticani.

The streets leading up to the Vatican Museum are speck less and well interspersed with souvenir shops and cafes. We promptly grab a Chocolate Cornetto and string along with other tourists, in the hope to elude despicably long lines. Pontifical Swiss Guards stand at intervals and if not for Dan Brown’s detailed description in his book, Angels and Demons, I might have stopped to take a second look. Out of respect, we don’t take pictures. They are after all the de facto military of the Vatican City and not merely posing as costumed clowns. The contemporary attire draws inspiration from Rafael’s frescoes : Stripes of ultramarine blue, red & a bright ochre, white collar & cuffs, complete with a black beret. They stand out offering an insignia of the Renaissance period.
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Image Courtesy: Google

The Vatican museum is indubitably a treasure house of art, that reveal a clandestine past, and shines despite the rummage and ravage it has endured. Maybe I should mention the gilded ,enchanting ceilings bearing the most delicate of patterns, or the walls of a long hall that carry, 40 geographical maps of Italy from north to south or the enormous rooms that are perfectly swathed in the young artist, Raphael’s frescoes. I wonder if I should talk about Giuseppe’s staircase that curves in a double helix, or the countless sculptures, both mortal & biblical that are only shattered on the outside or Michelangelo’s thought provoking colossal masterpiece, The Last Judgement, draping the walls of the Sistine Chapel. It’s easy to get lost in the past, almost painful when jolted back to reality.
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Come evening, we once again stroll along the byzantine Roman pathways towards Via Dei Condotti. After a brush with history, we prepare to indulge in a little modern fashion. Although I think it’s not fair to label it “modern” when just a few yards ahead, lie the Spanish Steps: 135 steps built between the years 1723-1725. The husband is immersed in photographing the architecture while I window shop the streets that nestle quintessential  luxury names…Gucci, Prada, Cartier, Jimmy Choo, the works. However, a little corner on the street is home to a street vendor, gently roasting chestnuts on an open fire. The aroma is inviting and moments later, we’re staring at a paper bag with mounds of chestnuts whilst contemplating if we should give in to our curiosities. We do, we love it and pat ourselves on the back!

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Piazza Di Spagna

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The Spanish Steps

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Before we bid farewell, we sit on stone benches at the Piazza Di Spagna, binge on Pistachio Cannolis and plan the following morning’s journey. It is a bittersweet moment. Rome gave us glorious cathedrals and gorgeous sunsets. We were introduced to sweet Cornettos and flavour bound pastas. Rome shared with us secrets of it’s poignant history and helped us attempt Italian words. For that & more, Grazie! It’s never enough, the heart is hardly content but Florence awaits….Farewell, Roma.

I have to take a little break to share with you all the magic of the holidays in my next post. In the meanwhile, do stop by my Instagram account to see some of the holiday goodies I baked this year! Happy Holidays:)

SINGAPORE-4 : Food

“One of the nicest things about life is the way we we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”
-Luciano Pavarotti
Being complete foodies & dessert fanatics, we try to explore the best that we can when we travel. That’s also the only time , I’m injudicious with my calories & indulge nonchalantly. Singapore was no different so here goes… Continue reading “SINGAPORE-4 : Food”

DISTILLERY DISTRICT, TORONTO

The Distillery District of Toronto, a historic site, that was once a distillery, belonged to James Worts & William Gooderham and has now transpired into a mall of sorts, with an exquisite shopping & dining experience amidst the rustic old world charm. Summer days are best to visit and we usually spend time window shopping the antiques with a gelato in hand or a spicy hot chocolate from Soma Chocolatiers. It’s a pleasure looking at the work of local artisans be it the watercolour depictions of the district or the colourfully crafted paper art. If lucky enough, you can even treat yourself to some scrumptious hand made brigadeiros(brazilian chocolate made with condensed milk)! All in all, as these pictures suggest, a place worth many visits…. Continue reading “DISTILLERY DISTRICT, TORONTO”