Aloo Matar

It’s been a year of massive changes. I remember sitting with my 6 week old daughter on my lap, my then 19 month old running around wondering ‘who is that new creature in mom’s lap’ and devising ways of getting rid of the distraction including telling my mom she can take her to India with her. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed, drowning in the sea of diapers and colored poop. Much as I love my kids, I knew I needed an outlet, something that would take me beyond baby talk, Barneys and Elmo’s. Blogging came to mind. I do not remember the first time I read a blog but I remember being fascinated by it. As soon as thought of it, I did it. I completely enjoyed the 30 minutes or so I spent each day coming up with content for my blog and catching up with other blogs. Those 30 minutes refreshed my mind, putting me in better frame of mind and renewing my patience threshold.

A year from then, here I am. A working mom, three blogs, and a writing stint on Dining Hall, I am suddenly stretched all over the place. Not complaining, though. I am enjoying it all. One year of blogging, 56 posts-a little over a post a week, I am feeling very satisfied. And yes, nowadays, I definitely spend more than 30 minutes blog-hopping. Ah, so many blogs, so little time….

***********************************************************************

Aloo Matar

There is nothing complicated about Aloo Matar. Potatoes and Peas, dry or smothered in gravy, there is a variation in every cuisine in India. Everybody has their own recipe for doing it, they are all equally good. It is very hard to mess this one up. I was running low on groceries on a day we had a few unexpected guests. Aloo Matar is definitely on the menu in such times. However, I wanted to zing it up a bit and added some extra ingredients making it into rich curry. We all enjoyed every last drop of it. I have made a couple times more, with different medleys of vegetables, it is the gravy that makes it super.

Deep-fry/Shallow-fry/Oven Roast

2 Medium sized Potatoes chopped into bitesize cubes

I have tried each of the above methods. Deep fry is quick, good (when is it not) but oily. Shallow fry takes a lot of time and effort. Oven roasting gives it a wonderful taste. Remember to salt it and give a light coating of oil before roasting. Roasting takes time, too but gives a subtle nuance to the taste. Try it.
———————————————————————-
Heat

1 tbsp Peanut Oil

in a wok/kadhai/pan on medium-hot flame. Add

½ tsp Jeera/Cumin Seeds.

When they start sputtering, stand back, brace yourself and add

3 tbsp of Basic Onion-Tomato Gravy

And immediately cover the pan. There will a lot of sputtering and spewing. Adding liquids to hot oil will do that. Lowering the flame will slow down the release of the oil/ghee in the paste. You end up having to fry it as you would for onions and tomatoes. So what? Arre, the whole point of the paste is to save you time. You can make fresh gravy using the same recipe linked above. I won’t be impressed, but I Promise, I won’t hold it against you. 🙂 When the sputtering stops, remove the lid and stir the paste around till the oil comes out. Add

Potatoes, prepared as above,
1 cup frozen peas,
1 cup water,
Salt to taste

Adjust salt, if you have added salt to potatoes while roasting. Mix and bring to a boil. There is nothing to cook here. The potatoes are already cooked, the frozen peas cook in a jiffy. All you want is for everything to get together. Once it boils, remove from flame and add

2 tbsp Ricotta Cheese

You can substitute with cream. The ricotta cheese melts into the gravy giving it a nice sheen and different texture. Try it. Even cottage cheese is good, however, it will add more of a tang that will need accounting for. Mix, place back on a low heat and let the flavors all fuse together.
————————————————————————-
Serve with Rotis/Parathas and a salad.

Advertisements

Basic Onion-Tomato Gravy 101

In those glorious days when I was a full-time mom, I never planned a meal in advance. No,the 24 hour prep cycle for idli’s or most dosa’s doesn’t count. Menu was always decided maybe 30 mins before I went in to cook and almost always had a particular farmaish from the miya-ji.Most of the time the dinner plate reflected my disposition for the day. Tired, just roti-sabzi or dal-rice-pickle , Enthused- a full and I mean a full plate etc. In the transition from being a full-time mom to a full-time working mom, my cooking has lost that spur-of-the-moment magic. I have menu’s planned for the whole week. Thus, I have a grocery list of items I need from the grocery store. So, grocery shopping has lost its sense of discovery, too.

Not to put down on the planned menu thing, it’s actually a boon. I have a definite idea on the way home about what we are having for dinner and not wasting a lot of time in trying to decide what to cook. That time is then well spent with the kids. It ensures a home made meal everyday as opposed to I-am-too-tired-to-think-let-alone-cook,lets-order-some-takeout routine. Since, I prefer to use up all my fresh veggies and fruits within a week, planning a meal and then buying just those fresh ingredients really acheives that goal. Not to mention cutting the grocery bill in half. I mean, seriously, going to the grocery store without a list was eating up a lot into my household budget. That money is now used up much more wisely, like those pair of shoes that I just needed to have last week. 🙂 , just kidding. But, you know what I mean. So, really, after a couple of months of planned meals, I am really at a phase where I wonder how on earth I managed without it.

So, while I am not at all ready to let go planning weekly menus, I have started missing out the impromtu-ness of cooking. You know the feeling. It’s raining, lets deep fry something with hot chai or its cold, I want something robust that would fill me up and keep me warm. It was on the day of the later kind that I strayed from the menu and decided to cook up something indian , would fill us up good and warm us from the inside out. It’s a natural instinct for me to think north Indian food when I am in a mood like this. One of the reasons is the fact that it’s the only part of India that officially experiences cold weather in temperatures that we experience in Virginia (No, its really not that cold here as in say canada). So, a lot of there food is actually geared to warming you up. For example, the spices that they use like Cloves, cinnamon etc. or even their extensive use of onion go a long way in achieving that. Also, those creamy, thick gravies. Oh, yum. Now, that I had a general idea what I was craving for, you see the conundrum that I was in, don’t you. How does shopping according to a menu plan lets you adjust to a meal not on the menu? First of all, a well-stocked pantry. Second of all, well use of ingredients in hand. And finally, a well-stocked freezer. Oh, yes. My freezer is a dungeon full of ziploc bags labeled in a script that only I can understand, a mish-mash of frozen veggies and fruits and stuff that I make and freeze for the days like this when deviations happen. I decided to make a aloo-matar. Always, always have potatoes and frozen peas in hand. Also, some frozen homemade basic onion-tomato gravy paste. But, of course, it was not to be the usual aloo-matar. This was to be aloo-matar for the american-desi using ingredients that I had on hand and the desperate craving for a thick, rich, cream-laced gravy.

Freezable Onion-tomato gravy paste

After a long trial and error phase, I have narrowed down to a recipe for the basic gravy paste that works for me enough to blog about it. Just a few things to keep in mind, before you decide to follow this recipe to go the freezing way.

1. There is going to be a change in taste. Do not believe anyone who says there isn’t. This recipe narrows down that change in taste to a level where it is OK for me. Having said that, it is still a work in progress and if I hit upon some other way that minimizes it, I will post it.

2. I freeze this paste in an ice-cube tray and then store the frozen cubes in a ziploc Bag. I label and date it, note the specific ingredients I added to it. While this recipe is the basic gravy paste I use for many North-Indian dishes, some changes here and there turn it into paste used for more specific prepartions like dal makhanis or rajmas. It usually is just a change in the quantities of certain ingredients. But, once frozen, they end up looking the same. So, label includes specific information that would help me differentiate between them.

3. My general rule of thumb when freezing this myself is not let it go for more than 6 weeks. I end up using mine way before that time.

4. The one way I could minimize the change in taste that occured after freezing it was by increasing the amount of fat ( oil and ghee) in it. So, it is a toss-up between convenience and calories. Works for me. I am sure it still falls short on the calories level when compared to ready-made pastes. The recipe could use significantly less fat if it is to be used immediately. However, the final dish won’t require as much oil/Ghee because its already used here.

5. The biggest point to remember is to remove all moisture content from the onion and the tomatoes (Using more Ghee/oil helps there). As far as freezing is concerned, moisture is bad. so, remember to fry them till the oil separates.

6. Cool the masala completely before freezing. The condensed steam from the hot paste in the freezer results in water and icicles. Not good.

On to the recipe,now.

Slice and fry

3 medium-sized Onions

in a pre-heated mixture of

2 tbsp of ghee
2 tbsp of Peanut Oil (any other light flavored oil is good enough)

on medium heat, till the onions soften and wilt and golden spots/bubbles appear on them. Takes some amount of time and needs intermediate attention and stirring. You see the oil disappearing when you first add the onions and then re-appearing at about this stage. Add

6 cloves of Garlic, chopped coarsely
3 inch piece of Ginger, chopped coarsely

Fry for a few minutes, till the garlic and ginger turn golden in color. Keep watching, doesn’t take long. Add

6 plum Tomatoes OR 3 beefsteak Tomatoes, chopped coarsely
3 tbsp Tomato puree OR 1 1/2 tsp Tomato Paste

Again, needs time and attention and frequent stirring. The oil disappears and starts appearing again. Look closely to differentiate between the moisture of the tomatoes and the oil. You might have to fry it a little while longer even after the oil starts separating to completely eliminate moisture. One of the ways to tell there is no more moisture is that the onion starts changing color and getting brown as opposed to golden. In some cases, this is good and we will let it go till it reaches a good brown color (like say chana masala). In this case, we want it to be more golden than brown and hence will stop.

Remove from flame. Cool a little bit before blending it into a paste. Might require a little help in the form of water. Use the least you can and still make a smooth paste.

Heat

1 tbsp Ghee
1 tbsp Peanut Oil

on medium flame. Add

the paste blended as above, would be still warm

Fry till the oil separates, won’t take long. Add

1/2 tsp Turmeric/Haldi Powder
7-8 tsp Red Chilli /Laal Mirch Powder
5 tsp Coriander /Dhaniya Powder
3 tsp Cumin/Jeera Powder

Fry till the oil separates again. Add

1 1/2 tsp Garam Masala

Mix thoroughly. Cool completely. Clean and dry the ice tray. Pour 2 tbsp on the prepared paste in cube. Freeze. Next day(12-14 hrs later), remove from tray and store in freezable ziploc bags, back into the freezer.

Thought Process

1. I use less onion and more tomato and this recipe reflects that. Just the way my taste buds roll. Very much open to change, though.

2. I use a combination of fresh tomatoes and tomato paste or puree. I prefer the tanginess of the fresh tomatoes that is noticably absent in the puree or paste. However, the puree or paste act as a thickener for the gravy and results in a smoother, thicker gravy.

3. I prefer to fry the sliced onion and chopped tomato and then make a puree of it as opposed to making a paste and then frying in oil. I just find the bhunoing part in the first one is far less than in the second one. By following this method, I fry, make paste and then fry again for a little while. Might seem like a lot of oil, but remember, if you make a paste first before frying, you have to start with double the quantity of oil to begin with. Otherwise, you end up with onion paste that is kind of steamed/braised instead of fried. That’s because it will cook in its own liquid dropping the temperature of the oil and not fry in the hot oil which dries up its liquid almost immediately. It will still be edible, but not conducive to good freezing as it would still have moisture in it. Remember, Moisture bad for freezing. Either way fat content remains the same.

4. Resist the temptation to replace the ghee in the recipe with oil. Ghee lends a lot of flavor to the paste as opposed to just oil. If you are counting your calories, reduce it and replace with oil but try not to completely eliminate it. If you do eliminate it, when preparing the final dish, use a little ghee. But, use ghee somewhere, for crying out loud.

5. If you were using the above recipe to use immediately, you would add salt with the tomatoes to help the tomatoes release their moisture. However, when I plan to freeze it, I avoid adding any salt to it. Salt would be added while making the final dish.

Sunday Brunch..Chole Batura

Of all the american things that I have adopted in my day-to-day life, the one thing that I have accepted with open arms is the “Sunday Brunch” Tradition. What an excellent excuse for sleeping late into mid-morning. Wake up, make lunch that is neither here nor there and call it “Brunch”. One of the things that has become quite common,at my home, for brunch is Chole Batura, the quintessential Punjabi Dish. Chole would be curried Garbonzos while Baturas are deep fried breads made with regular flour and yogurt.

My friend, who is a punj (Of course!), once told me that traditionally,chole-batura is an breakfast item served along with sweet lassi. Can you imagine that? “I would probably skip lunch and Dinner with that kind of breakfast!!!!…”, I told her. Of course, this was me in my college days, when chatting up friends over the phone and buying new clothes seemed to fill me up pretty good. Where as, today, I eat this same combination for brunch and end up feeling hungry at 4 pm. I blame it all squarely on the huge hormone fluctuations during pregnancies.Forget the fact that I delivered over 6 months ago and my obstretician told me 2 days ago that all is normal in Vee-land. Well, Doc, you wouldn’t say that if you saw the amount of food I can still gobble up. And what about those pair of jeans that look at me forlornly, whenever I open my closet?

Anyway, all that frustration didn’t stop me from enjoying Chole-Bature with Mango Lassi on my patio today. Good Combination. Highly recommended.

IMG_0147

To Make Baturas

Make a dough using

2 cups regular flour
1/4 cup Yogurt
1 small potato, boiled and mashed
2 tbsp ghee/oil
1/2 tsp baking powder
salt to taste

Add warm water or flour, as required. Knead into a soft pliable dough. Keep aside for about an hour.

When ready to make, roll out golf ball sized dough balls into about 2 mm thick rounds and deep fry as described in the recipe for Mangalore Bun.

To make Chole,

Pressure cook or boil until tender using about 3 cups water

1 cup Chickpeas/Garbanzos soaked overnight

with

1 Black Cardamon/Badi Elaichi
1 Bay Leaf.

Meanwhile, heat up

3 tbsp Corn Oil/Vegetable Oil/Peanut Oil

in wide pan.

Add

2 medium Onions, sliced thinly

Cook on high heat stirring frequently till the onion browns. Add

1 medium Tomato,chopped finely

Continue cooking on high heat stirring frequently till the tomatoes break down and the mixture starts leaving oil. Transfer to a food processor and blend into a paste. Transfer back to the Pan.You can make the paste first and then brown it. But I prefer to do it this way. Don’t ask me why. I am weird that way. Ok, I will tell you. Its just that I think this process browns the onion faster.

Add

1 tsp Red chilli Powder
1 tsp Black Pepper Powder
1 tsp Garam Masala Powder

Stir and cook for a minute. Add

cooked Chickpeas/Garbanzos along with the water.
1/4 tsp Anardana Powder
1/4 tsp Amchur Powder
Salt to taste

Add more water, if necessary or decant some from the beans before adding, if it is more. Bring to a boil. Smash some of the beans by pressing them against the sides of the pan with the ladle. This helps thicken the sauce. Cover and cook for about 5-7 minutes on medium to low heat to allow all the flavors to meld together. Remove from flame. Finish by adding,

1 tsp roasted Jeera/Cumin powder.

To Make tamarind Chutney
Soak

1/4 cup Tamarind
1/2 cup Dates

in

1/2 cup water

for about an 2-3 hours.

Blend into a smooth paste adding

1/4 tsp roasted cumin/jeera powder(optional)
a pinch of salt

To serve

Serve 2 ladlefuls of chole topped with 1 tbsp of Tamarind Chutney and 1 tsp finely chopped onion in a bowl per person with 2 baturas and a glass of chilled Mango Lassi.