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.

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Lessons I’m Learning from my Mother….Sihi Kootu & More

“My mother is my best friend”….the old chestnut holds true with me as well…
Admittedly, I can go on for ages about how her children received immense priority ultimately leading up to her sacrificing her best career years in order to render us all a warm home. With a husband whose job entails touring the country half the month & three children, two of whom are really hooligans disguised as chubby little boys, the cacophony & chaos can prove challenging and not just in terms of time. I can write about how her face beams with a blend of pride and satisfaction when people notice me as her mirror image and how the same face cringes when some mistakenly mention otherwise! I can write about how she thoughtfully scribes the sweetest( and longest!) messages that prompt me to effortlessly tear up 10,000 miles away and how she indefatigably listens to me blather for hours about the most inane topics. I can write about how she instilled the love of God in our hearts at a tender age thereby guiding us to live a life saturated with faith. I can also write about how she perpetually corrects our lapses and how she relentlessly eludes us from the poisons of revenge.
However,  I won’t.
Today I want to share with you the lessons I am LEARNING from her….
To say she is the epitome of patience is practically an understatement and this can be vouched for by any soul that’s crossed paths with her. The worst of agitations don’t trigger her to bring the roof down. She is the icy water that douses fiery hot heads! As a teen, I learnt the rewards patience can bestow upon one….the learning continues…

Her calm demeanor culminates as her biggest strength. Recalling the pandemonium that joint families can be subjected to, it dawns on me that her serene silence and smile nonchalantly answered most circumstances. My learning continues….

Trying times bizarrely are directly proportional with her degrees of optimism. Needless to say, much needed. Hope is never a dearth at home and that’s saying something.
When life hands lemons, she musters up courage and emerges a winner. She protectively continues to stand up for us in our toughest times and is indubitably my pillar of strength. I continue to learn and if only I can soak in one drop in that ocean of optimism…..

Among the many feathers in a mother’s cap, she also transpires as a long distance constant cooking coach, guiding me gently and indulgently through the complications of it all, awaiting reviews from a hungry son in law. Although I picked up the the basics of Madhwa Cuisine under my mother in law’s unremitting tutelage, there are some recipes that I continue to learn from my mother….Sihi Kootu is one such. How can I possibly forget devouring bowl after bowl of Sihi Kootu with warm rice as I rushed back home from school? Or when I visited the same home with a husband by my side,  15 years later?

We now arrive at the kitchen of my mother’s home, wafting with  aromas of a simmering Sihi Kootu!

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The recipe has flawlessly been passed down the many generations: what my mom learnt from my great grandmother, I learn from my mom. While my great grandmother laboriously and painstakingly ground the spices and coconut in a mammoth stone mortar & pestle, we get away with a turn of a knob! “It doesn’t taste the same”, my mom says.
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Sihi means sweet in Kannada & Kootu basically belongs to the sambar/stew family which means it is rich in dal, coconut & vegetables. I feel the need to clarify that it’s not necessarily sweet but mainly called so to ensure that it’s not confused with another Kootu, the ‘Kharaddu’ meaning Spicy.
The addition of pepper & dry chillies impart a subtle heat to the dish. Byadgi (mildly spicy but adds colour) & Guntoor (very spicy but doesn’t add much colour) are the two types of dry chillies used and together they create a balanced combination. There’s jaggery, which is a mandatory in Madhwa cuisine that lends a sweet note to the dish that when mixed with ghee(clarified butter) and rice can easily become a feast for the Gods! Dal i.e. Toor Dal is added in a slightly generous quantity than regular sambars to give a thicker, creamier consistency. With a whole lot of Dal(lentils), Veggies, & a medley of spices, this authentic South Indian Vegan dish is a bowl of warmth & comfort.

The learning continues….

I hope you try this recipe and I would love me a feedback:) Also, I’m trying my hand at food photography and styling these days….I do hope you like these pictures!

RECIPE FOR SIHI KOOTU

INGREDIENTS
3/4th cup Toor Dal
Roughly 3 cups of chopped vegetables like Beans, Carrots, Chayote, Potatoes & legumes like pigeon peas & Padpi lilva
1.5 tbsp jaggery
10 curry leaves
Salt to taste
For the masala paste –
1.5 tbsp urad dal
3 Guntoor dry red chilles(very spicy)
5 Byadgi Dry Red chillies( a little less spicy)
3/4 tsp peppercorns
1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
For tempering –
1 tsp of oil
1 tsp of mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
A good pinch of Hing/AsafoetidaMETHOD
1. Pressure cook toor dal with 2.5-3 times the water
2. Cook the veggies in boiling water & a little bit of salt. Alternatively, it can be pressure cooked along with the dal itself but there is a chance they may become a little mushy.
3. In the meanwhile, make the masala paste.In a kadai, take a teaspoon of oil and fry Urad dal, chillies, peppercorn in medium heat until the dal is golden brown in colour. Allow them to cool.
4. Once it’s cooled, grind it with fresh grated coconut and some water to get a paste of medium coarse consistency.
5. Add this to the cooked dal & veggies along with jaggery,curry leaves & salt. Let it come to a boil.
6. To temper, in a smaller kadai/tadka pan, add oil and once it heats up,  add urad dal & mustard seeds. Let the mustard crackle and then add Hing.
7. Add this to the Kootu. Serve hot with rice & ghee

Black Eyed Peas/Lobiya & Spinach Curry

Inspiration for cooking can be drawn from a lavish buffet restaurant or from a simple meal at a temple made with the most basic of ingredients; from a loving great grandmother or sometimes a 5 year old even. The possibilities are infinite & the only tools one needs are an open mind & a speck of imagination.
En route from Bangalore to Mysore, there is a restaurant, Kamat Loka Ruchi and on a sultry weekend road trip, the husband & me decided to lunch here. The restaurant is dressed in a simple attire sans any frill or fancy; simple dining chairs & tables, limestone sculptures of Gods & Goddesses, scraps of rotis strewn here & there and even harmless fruit flies to keep one company. Most customers are tourists punctuated with theater artists from the adjoining ” Janapada Loka”. The friendly staff run hurriedly from table to table not just merely serving utterly delicious food but also eagerly coaxing hungry patrons to relish the myriad of dishes and treating them to bonus helpings like a well meaning relative.
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Now, the food. Their speciality is cuisine from North Karnataka , all served on the traditional banana leaf & comprising Jowar rotis( with a nice spoonful of butter), brinjal curry, Black eyed peas curry, Methi & onion salad, Bajji(veggies coated with chickpea flour & fried), Sambar , Rasam(lentil soup) & Curds. Dessert is Holige ( sweet rotis with a dal filling) & a banana. Simple, unsophisticated soul food that will leave one supremely satiated.
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The Black eyed peas curry from Kamat is a treat for a legume lover like me. But, a drive of 1.5 hours on sunny Sunday afternoons can leave you too tired to face the tyranny of Mondays. So, one morning I decided, why not try it at home…”if it fails, then at the least I tried,  but if it works, then nothing like it”. Well, it turned out to be the latter and I’m not going to toot my own horn & say that it tastes exactly the same. But, it’s my version & will have to do until I visit Kamat again.
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The curry I present to you today celebrates the goodness of black eyed peas or lobiya. I’ve paired these protein-rich lentils with another favourite, spinach leaves. But, if spinach is not your cup of tea, then it can be omitted or replaced with other leafy greens such as fenugreek. An aromatic spice mix brimming with coconut brings it all together. It pairs well with rice or rotis but don’t forget to include a dollop of ghee!
Hope you like this one!

RECIPE FOR BLACK EYED PEAS CURRY
INGREDIENTS

3/4-1 cup lobiya /black eyed peas/cow peas (once soaked, this will yield about 2- 2.5 cups)
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
3-4 green chillies
1 Dry red chilli
1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
1 medium sized onion, roughly chopped
1/2″ cinnamon
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tbsp jeera/cumin seeds
1 tsp oil
salt to taste
FOR TEMPERING:
1 tsp oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds
Pinch of Hing powder/ Asofoetida
1-2 dry red chillies

METHOD
1. Soak the black eyed peas/lobiya overnight.
2. Once soaked, drain the water off and wash the peas well. Then pressure cook it with 3 cups of water. (can even be cooked in hot water in a pot but will take a longer time)
3. Once cooked & cooled, grind together,
onion
green chillies
dry red chilli
coconut
cinnamon
turmeric
jeera/cumin seeds
1/4th cup heaped, cooked lobiya/black eyed peas
and roughly 1/4th to 1/2 cup of water
Grind to a medium coarse/smooth paste.
4. In a kadai/deep bottomed pan, add a tsp of oil. Once it’s heated, add the chopped spinach and let it cook until the stalks are tender.
5. Add the cooked black eyed peas to this. Add the ground paste, salt and let it all come to a boil.Keep stirring from time to time to ensure that it doesn’t stick to the pan. Remove from heat.
6 To temper, in a small pan/ tadka pan, take oil and let it heat up. Add the mustard seeds and allow it to splutter. When done, add hing & dry red chillies. Add tempering to the curry and serve hot with rice/chapati.