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.

Spring laden Pasta in a Basil Pesto

Many of our Saturday mornings, winter or warmer, have adopted a little ritual. A sanctimonious one, demanding equal parts worship and sacrifice. The sacrifice involves rejecting the few extra precious hours of weekend sleep and beginning the morning a tad earlier than usual. The worship comprises a prayer to the Transit Gods of Toronto, hoping for a bus that arrives on schedule. And finally, the ritual in question implies a rejuvenating escape to the St.Lawrence Farmer’s Market.
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Thriving amid fresh,seasonal produce, strolling along the aisles encompassed by the profusion of vegetables and fruits, their vibrant skins dappled with shimmering droplets of water, is admittedly my kind of meditation, my panacea, my prayer. St. Lawrence Market offers just that and appeases my soul whilst simultaneously exciting and enthralling my creative side of the brain.
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The saturday market is huddled within a white tent and the vendors entice customers who are still warding off the sleep bug with, little cups of apple cider,swigs of fermented yogurt, fresh cut apple slices, trimmings of cheese and spoonfuls of olive tapenade. If that doesn’t entail enough enlivening, then rows of neatly lined herbs in a deep, verdant green, stacks of colour coded bell peppers, mountains of earthy potatoes, minuscule baskets heaped with tomatoes in a variety of sizes, each one more darling than the other, buckets plopped with lovely, seasonal flowers, these definitely do the trick.

Sticklers to our timetable, we headed there one spring morning. As suspected, the market was alive with its usual hustle-bustle, brimming with the bounty of spring. Tall stems of tulips, towering pyramids of asparagus, bunches of seasonal ramp, bouquets of rhubarb; it was verily a festival, one that pleased the soul, the eyes and the belly.
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As you can imagine, there is no dearth of inspiration here and we hauled back fresh basil, bunches of ramp, asparagus stalks, cherry tomatoes and a carton of pasta. I decided to pour this bounty into a dish, a new adventure considering I had never tasted ramp and asparagus, both harbingers of spring.
The culmination of that inspiration is what you see here: A Strozzapreti pasta slathered unrestrainedly with a Basil-Walnut Pesto mingling with peas and ramp leaves and a side of asparagus and cherry tomatoes. This is my  tribute to the languid breeze of spring, my gratitude to Mother Nature’s fresh bounty.
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Before we head to the recipe, a little more about the ingredients-
Ramp is essentially a wild onion, rather pungent and taste like a mixture of  onion and garlic. I employed all the leaves but only used a few of the bulbs in this pasta since their aroma was a little too strong for us.
Asparagus spears are described to have earthy undertones and they can be grilled, boiled or fried. Here, I’ve just stir fried them with some oil and salt.
Common to the Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Marche, and Tuscany regions of Italy, the Strozzapreti is a hand-rolled pasta that is similar to cavatelli but it is slightly more elongated, and features a light twist. A little Italian store in the heart of St. Lawrence Market has a wall dedicated to pastas in all shapes and sizes. The owner always treats to a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar before fixing up our usual cup of joe. Bellissimo!

RECIPE FOR PASTA IN A BASIL PESTO AND SPRING VEGETABLES
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
250 gms Strozzapreti pasta or any other kind
2.5 litres water
2 tbsp of salt
For the Basil Walnut Pesto:-
2 cups loose basil
12 walnuts
1/3 cup oil 
Freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste
Other vegetables:
2 bunches ramp- 25 leaves
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup heaped cherry tomatoes
10 stems of asparagus
Salt to taste
2 tbsp oil

METHOD
-Place the water in a large vessel and bring to boil. Once it’s boiling, add the salt and pasta. Cook until al dente according to the directions on the carton. Then drain(Tip: keep about 1/3 cup of pasta water aside before draining) and pour cold water on the pasta to stop it from getting cooked any further.
-To make the pesto: In a blender/food processor, blend the fresh basil, walnuts, oil, salt and pepper until a coarse paste is achieved. Keep aside.
-Prepare the vegetables. Wash them all clean.
Cut off the bulbs from the ramp leaves. The bulbs can be chopped and used. (I used about 2-3 of them). Chop off the woody portion of the asparagus stems.
-Heat a large saucepan and add some oil. Once it is heated add the cleaned asparagus and sprinkle some salt. Stir fry until softened. Keep aside once cooked.
Do the same with the cherry tomatoes and keep aside.
-Heat a teaspoon of oil and add the chopped bulbs of the ramp, saute until they brown and then add the leaves, sprinkle some salt. Stir fry until they wilt an soften.
-To this, add the pesto, frozen peas and the drained pasta.Add the pasta water which had been kept aside if you feel the need to make a thinner sauce. Let the dish heat up for a few minutes.
-Serve hot with a the cherry tomatoes and asparagus on the side and perhaps a grating of parmesan.

Chickpeas in a Coconut Curry

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
-Rabindranath Tagore
It was a cloud-masked spring morning. The colour in question, a myriad of greys.  My favourite kind of morning. My hands cuddled a warm cup of peach and ginger infusion as I gazed out the window. Soft rain drenched the streets of Toronto, its people huddled under umbrellas. Unable to peel my eyes away from a nonchalant scene, I hoped the sun would stay on hiatus for the day.
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Normally, on days like these, I crave a hot chocolate and a couple of chocolate chip cookies on the side. But on this occasion, I found myself pining for a warm bowl of curry. Spicy, creamy and perhaps poured over some hot rice. Maybe a dash of ghee melting its way into the gravy. It was time to pause the bout of reverie and get working in the kitchen.
Chickpea Curry/Channa Masala is an old soul in the plethora of Indian Cuisine. It’s a classic, and has ubiquitous presence in India and outside. I remember the brothers and me delighting in this curry with hot pooris and a side of mango ShreekarNe(Mango pulp and milk) and imaginably, it was nothing short of a celebration.

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In today’s recipe, whilst retaining much love and respect to the classic and drawing inspiration from the original flavors, I also borrow the creamy richness of Coconut Milk. Coconut Milk, a luscious, velvety milk, is made by grinding coconut meat and water and is rich with the nutty, sweet flavors of coconut. It’s addition to the modest & much-loved chickpeas ensues an experience filled with comfort and indulgence and as predicted, just what that rainy afternoon demanded. As the imagined preview in that daydream, I poured it over warm rice with a spoonful of ghee. But, it pairs wonderfully with rotis/chapatis as well. Also, sans the ghee it works as a vegan dish too.  I hope this dish enamors you on rainy days and others!
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RECIPE FOR CHICKPEAS AND COCONUT CURRY
Serves 2

INGREDIENTS
1 1/3 cup of canned Chickpeas
1 large onion – chopped into large chunks
2 tomatoes- chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 green chilli – split into 2
1 tsp Ginger- finely chopped
12 whole Cashewnuts
1/2 tsp Turmeric
2 tsp Coriander Powder(Dhaniya powder)
1 tsp Cumin Powder(Jeera powder)
1/2 tsp red chilli powder(or more if you like it spicy)

3 tbsp Oil
2 Dried Bay leaves
1 Star Anise
3 Cardamom Pods(Elaichi)
1 inch piece of Cinammon
1/2 cup canned Coconut Milk
1/2 cup water
Salt to Taste
1 tbsp dried mint or dried fenugreek leaves

METHOD
-In a kadai, add the oil and once it’s heated, add the green chilli and ginger. Saute until the ginger is lightly browned and add the chopped onions with a sprinkle of salt.
-Once the onions turn soft and transluscent, add the tomatoes, cashewnuts and season once again. Saute for a few minutes until the tomatoes are cooked nicely and their raw smell is gone.
-Add the spices: Turmeric, Coriander Powder and Cumin Powder, red chilli powder, stir-fry the mixture for about 2-3 minutes. The, put off the heat and remove from the pan into a blender. Let it cool completely. Once cooled, blend into a paste, adding just enough water only if necessary. Keep aside.
-In the same kadai, add a teaspoon of oil and let it heat. To this add the whole spices: Star Anise, Cinammon, Cardamom and Bay leaves, saute until the cinnamon pops.
-To this add the ground onion-tomato paste along with half a cup of water(add more if you prefer a thinner gravy), canned chickpeas, salt and let it simmer. Finally add the coconut milk, dried mint/ dried fenugreek leaves & stir it well and allow to simmer once again. Keep stirring once in a while to ensure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Once it comes to a boil, put off the stove and garnish with coriander or other microgreens.
-Serve hot with rice/rotis , some ghee and a side of lemon & onions.

Edible Flower Cookies

I reminisce the summer of 2017. It was a rather sultry one, the roaring flood of sunshine almost inciting in me a particularly intense pining for winter & it’s entourage. The sun blazed fiercely, as if compensating for its absence in the coming months. Walking, an activity that normally takes precedence for the husband & me, was shunned without second thought. We hopped into Toronto’s streetcars in temptations of the slightest respite.
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One such morning, I stood amid parallel seats,one hand desperately clasping the overhead strap, gazing out the window as scenes hurried by like a movie in fast forward. One scene however, stood still; a signpost reading , ‘Toronto Flower Market’. The duration of the halt hardly amounted to anything but  it was ample enough for me to peer out the window and spot happy Torontonians, each one gently clutching a bouquet of blooms and behind them, a sea of flowers.  I vowed to return the next day.
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And return we did  the next morning, spending a couple of hours strolling the bylanes of this little market, acquainting ourselves with unfamiliar flowers, chatting up with vendors and being stunned by the gamut of freshness. We carried wrapped bouquets of hydrangeas in a matte magenta, a gigantic bloom of Dahlia in ivory and wonder of wonders, mini pumpkins on a stick! Aside from this haul, we met a friendly and talented florist who introduced me to the Nasturtium, an edible flower in bright warm hues. She explained that they would blend brilliantly in salads. I  purchased them instantly and employed their vibrancy to decorate a salad and a simple Maple-Pecan cake. Thanks to the flower market and a kind florist, Allison, since then, I’ve always been on the lookout for edible flowers and Toronto’s farmers markets are kind enough to treat us to them especially when the weather turns warm. This time, instead of just plopping them on a cake, I’ve attempted to incorporate the magic of Nasturtium into cookies.


The cookies I’ve shared with you today are simplistic and highlight the presence of these beautiful edible blooms. Nasturtium literally means ‘nose twist’ and are known to have a peppery taste. The cookies are delicate, light, eggfree as always, savory and easy to put together. You can choose to add other herbs as well; I’ve added a sprinkle of thyme and lavender.
Let’s get to the recipe.
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RECIPE FOR EDIBLE FLOWER COOKIES(EGGFREE)
Makes 20 cookies

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

1.5 tsp sugar
2 tbsp plain yogurt( extra tablespoon only if necessary)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour/sifted whole wheat flour
A large handful of organic Nasturtium flower petals or more(feel free to experiment with other organic flower petals as well)
A sprinkle of Thyme and Lavender

Method
– In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar using a hand whisk.

– Then add the flour, salt, thyme leaves, lavender & yogurt. Very gently bring all the ingredients together into a dough.(If the dough is dry add just a little more yogurt)
– Transfer the dough into a large sheet of plastic wrap and cover. Refrigerate for an hour.
– In the meantime, preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
– Remove the chilled dough from the plastic wrap and roll using a rolling pin to a thickness of a little more than 1/4th inch. Then place the flower petals on top and press very gently. Roll once again(gently) to a thickness of 1/4th inch. (Tip- I place plastic wrap on the dough and then roll to avoid sticking)
-Using a 2 inch cookie cutter, cut and place the individual cookies on a parchment.

-Repeat the process until all the cookie dough is used.
– Bake for around 18-22 minutes and cool completely.(If much time is spent rolling and cutting cookies, and the dough has completely softened, place the cut and arranged cookies in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes before baking)

Vegan Pavlova with Praline Cream from New Zealand

Because my sweet tooth knows no bounds, because sugar in all its versatile glory never fails to lure me, because I’m forever on a quest to bake the day away, sometime last year, I indulged in a little project….. The One Sweet World Project. The desire was to usher sweetness that suffuses every corner of this beautiful world. The goal was to learn, immerse and finally, devour. Owing to distractions(delicious ones, I’ll admit), the plan endured a halt. However, perhaps 2018 will see the light of day.

Continue reading “Vegan Pavlova with Praline Cream from New Zealand”

Summer Dreams- Rose Water and Champagne Cake with Blood Orange Curd

Suddenly, I’m longing for the fragrance of floral notes, pining for those bewitching perfumes pervading bounteous gardens. Hankerings for hot chocolate and cinnamon laced apple tarts are long gone replaced entirely by a reverie of Spring and all the floral joy it so mercifully brings with it. They implore me to suffuse my desserts with a hint of that flower-laden aroma. Perhaps it is an attempt to cheat myself, into believing that the season of wind and frost has made its journey south, leaving us, Northerners, with warm, languid breezes, the murmers of lush trees and sweet scented hugs. The musing doesn’t end there. The truth is, I also yearn for a luminous summer afternoon, drenched under a burgeon of sunshine, canopies of shade drifting in and out, biting into succulent segments of oranges, a glass of Pinot Grigio in hand, the air chiming with carefree laughter.

Continue reading “Summer Dreams- Rose Water and Champagne Cake with Blood Orange Curd”

Blood Orange and Basil Cupcakes (Eggfree)

I’m drawn wildly to the scarlet hued blood oranges that have been gracing the hallowed aisles of the grocery this winter. Stowing them away endlessly and stacking the refrigerator to the brim; the result of an odd fear that soon they will be replaced by a bounty of summer fruits. Much like a moth is drawn to the flame, I’m too drawn to this rouge radiance; a flame too, just a tad different.
But, selfishly stocking them (read hiding them) without justifying their presence is much too foolish. My mind bubbles with ideas and concoctions, day or night(read deep into midnight). The very reason the past month or so have sped by in a flash. Fortunately, these citrus cousins blend as well with savory dishes as they do with sweet courses. My kitchen witnesses peels strewn around the counter and a deep hued juice gently trickling down edges of the cutting board fairly often and I find myself enticed every single time.

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To list the sweet creations that my kitchen and my very trusted knife have witnessed-
Blood Orange Galette: sliced blood oranges rest on blood orange marmalade and a walnut enriched pâte brisée(the recipe made its way into the blog as well)
Blood Orange Sourdough Boule: The deep crimson from the oranges softened into a pale orange but the citrus aroma lingered all the way, right down to the last crumb! We devoured the slices with jam spilling on the sides and lots of herbal tea.
Blood Orange and Raspberry Brownies(Vegan): Another homage to the magic that is the orange and chocolate. Admittedly, the pair transpires into a beautiful symphony but what I failed to recognize initially was the friendly cheer that the raspberries lent. Together, it was all an elegant soiree of flavours.
Blood Orange Upside Down Cake(Eggfree): This one was too hard to ignore. The cake is flooded with orange juice and makes for a citrus-lover’s dream but it’s the mandala-like pattern of candied oranges that steal the show.
Blood Orange Pavlova(Vegan) – Aquafaba. The result of every vegan and vegetarian’s ardent prayers. After my fiasco with the vegan macaron, I was possessed by a silly vexation towards this innocent ingredient. But all anger melted when I trotted out a magnificent pavlova the other night. It was slathered generously with a Praline and Mascarpone Cream(adapted from Ottolenghi’s ‘Sweet’), deluged with the darkest, deepest hued blood oranges and finally drizzled with a honey and pistachio syrup.( I yearn to share the recipe soon on the blog)

Continue reading “Blood Orange and Basil Cupcakes (Eggfree)”