Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Palak-Methi Dal and "Sholay"

I have always had a love-hate relationship with greens. 'Palebhaji' prepared with different greens was a staple when I was growing up, but it never appealed to me.  While spinach was tolerable, the allure of some other greens escaped me.  In particular, why people would choose to cook a bitter leaf like methi was a puzzle.  Then I tasted 'Methi theplas' at a friend's house and realized it might be tasty in small doses.  Methi pakodas further strengthened that belief.  On a recent quest to try something new in the kitchen I decided to try one of my mom's recipes.  I had just picked up frozen methi on a visit to the local desi store.  I combined it with spinach to tone down the bitterness imparted by the methi leaves.  It turned out to be a hit with my husband and even appealed to my grown-up palate.  I wish the same could be said for my daughters, but I guess that is too much to ask ... maybe someday. The recipe below serves four.

Sholay" came out in the mid-seventies and was a landmark film in many ways.  Not only was it the first ever 70 mm film but it ushered in the era of multi-star cast films in a way that we had not seen before. Dubbed as a 'curry' Western, the movie nonetheless had all the usual ingredients of a masala movie but with a lot of added violence.  Salim Javed's dialogues and Ramesh Sippy's direction brought out the best in its star cast. Sanjeev Kumar as the old thakur and Jaya Bhaduri as his daughter-in-law Radha both gave powerfully understated performances.  The on-screen chemistry between Hema as the talkative Basanti and Dharmendra as Veeru, as well as the camaraderie between Amitabh (as Jai) and Dharmendra was a delight to watch.  Amjad Khan as Gabbar was outstanding.  R.D. Burman's music passed muster with the exception of "mehebooba."  It is lavish production and remains one of India's must watch movies of all time.

1/2 cup toor dal
1 cup methi leaves
1 cup palak leaves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
4 to 5 dry red chillies
2 tablespoons shredded dry coconut
1 tablespoon tamarind extract
1 teaspoon jaggery
1 small onion sliced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 green chillies chopped
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon Hing
1 table spoon + 1 teaspoon oil

  1. Cook the toor dal in the pressure cooker with turmeric added to it.
  2. Cook the methi and palak leaves and mash.
  3. Roast the coriander seeds, red chillies, and dry coconut in a teaspoon of oil and grind to a paste.
  4. Mix the cooked dal, ground paste, mashed greens, salt, tamarind extract and jaggery.
  5. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil.
  6. Add the mustard seeds and when they cackle, add the hing, sliced onions, chopped green chillies and chopped garlic.
  7. Saute on medium high heat till the onions and garlic are cooked then add the dal mixture.
  8. Cook for about five more minutes to blend in the flavors.
  9. Serve hot with rice.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pasta Salad ... and Chicken Salad, and "Aradhana"

I have never been a big fan of sandwiches.  Salads, on the other hand, I love ... loaded with dressing, of course! Still, they usually leave me feeling hungry an hour after eating them.  And so, one day, I decided to add cooked pasta to make it more filling ... and the recipe for my pasta salad was born. When my younger daughter was in kindergarten I let her taste a mouthful; she liked it so much that to this day it remains one of her favorite lunch items.  The recipe serves one:

Mixed salad greens
1/3 cup cooked pasta (I prefer wheat)
2 tbsp italian dressing (I prefer Kraft Seven Seas)
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp bacos
1 tbsp chow mein noodles
Dash of tabasco sauce

  1. Toss the greens and the pasta with the salad dressing.
  2. Add the tobasco.
  3. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese.
  4. Add toppings (bacos and chow mein noodles)

My older daughter loves food of all kinds. One can even call her a "foodie." As a result, from time to time, she goes through phases of what she calls "healthy" eating in order to compensate.  This is one of her favorite lunches.  The best part about it is that it can be eaten as is or enjoyed as a wrap by simply wrapping the salad contents with a wheat tortilla.  The recipe below serves one:

1/2 cup chicken, diced
2 tbsp Lawry's 30-minute marinade, Tequilla Lime with Lime Juice 
Pam Olive oil cooking spray
Mixed greens
Baby spinach
1/3 cup grape tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/2 ounce cheddar cheese, grated
1 tbsp salad dressing (recommend Kraft Zesty Italian)

  1. Marinate diced chicken in Lawry's marinade for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Spray saute pan with cooking spray and heat on high heat.
  3. When pan is hot, add chicken.  Reduce heat to medium high.
  4. Cook chicken.  When done, remove from heat and set aside.
  5. In bowl, combine mixed greens with baby spinach.
  6. Add chopped tomatoes, bell pepper, and salad dressing.  Toss.
  7. Top with cooked chicken and grated cheese.
Note: Wrap contents in a wheat tortilla for a fun alternative!

Director Shakti Samanta gave us his biggest hit in 1969, the movie "Aradhana." The story had enough melodrama to tug at everyone's heartstrings. Shot in the beautiful locales of Darjeeling, the story is of a sweet and young girl named Vandana (played by Sharmila Tagore) who falls for Arun, an Air force officer (played by Rajesh Khanna). When Arun tragically loses his life in an accident, she spends the rest of her life devoted to raising her son. Sharmila had an author-backed role and complete justice to it. Rajesh Khanna played the dual role of both father and son with an easy charm. The film turned him into a superstar overnight. And Sachin Dev Burman's youthful melodies swooned the nation. This film is a must-see.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Potato Green Rassa and "Ghajini"

My mother-in-law Amma is an excellent cook in her own right.  Born in Nandurbar and having spent some of her childhood years in Jalgaon, her cuisine incorporates the bold and zesty flavors of the Vidarbha region.  My father-in-law's job took her to Andhra Pradesh, where she spent a significant portion of her life.  Over the years, she added a lot of the local recipes to her repertoire.  The green rassa or the 'Khandeshi' rassa, as she calls it, is one of my favorites. The recipe below serves four.

"Ghajani,"released at the end of 2008, brings back memories of an eighties film: a tale of revenge with action, thrills, and moments of tenderness that grips you from the very first frame.  The movie is presented in a very different way from the usual Bollywood films. It recounts the happy, lighthearted courtship between the hero (Aamir Khan) and the heroine (Asin), only to switch back to the grim reality of the short-term memory loss suffered by the hero.  Director Murugadoss has succeeded in telling the story that hits the right chord from the beginning right till the climax that keeps us pinned to our seats.  Asin leaves her mark as the innocent struggling model with a a heart of gold. But the movie really belongs to Aamir Khan.  From the romantic young businessman to the raging avenger, his performance rings true.  A. R. Rahman's music integrates well with the plot.

1 lb small potatoes
3 medium onions
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup fresh shredded coconut
5 green chillis
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1/2 cup chopped coriander
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 bay leaf
3 whole cardamoms
4 cloves 
2-inch piece of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

  1. Grind together the coconut, coriander leaves, ginger garlic, poppy seeds, green chillies, and almonds into a paste.
  2. Heat the oil.  When heated, add the cumin seeds and whole spices (bay leaf, cardamoms, cloves, and cinnamon).
  3. Add the potatoes (cut in quarters) and saute on medium heat until the potatoes turn golden brown.
  4. Add the ground masala and sliced onions.
  5. Add salt to taste, lower the heat, and cook covered until the potatoes are fully cooked.
  6. Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve hot with phulkas or parathas.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pepper paneer and "Anupama"

When I was growing up, paneer was not something included in the day-to-day Marathi cooking.  It was something to be enjoyed in Punjabi restaurants either in the form of a spicy mattar paneer or a palak paneer.  This gave it its somewhat exotic air.  My friend Ranjana was the one who guided me through my first mattar paneer recipe, helping to demystify the delectable cubes of cheese.  Over the years, I have perfected the standard mattar and palak paneer, but never forayed into anything else using paneer.  While I love both rasgulla and cham-cham, I think that some things are best prepared by a 'halwai!'  Then one day I chanced upon the recipe for pepper paneer.  I usually use red peppers because their sweetness contrasts well with spicy tomato gravy.  I have used all three colors when cooking for a crowd simply because the red, green, and yellow peppers interspersed with white chunks of paneer in a red sauce looks aesthetically pleasing to the eye.  The recipe below serves four.

Anupama' was released in the late sixties and should be considered one of Hrishikesh Mukerji's greatest films. Its brilliant dialogue evoked emotions without melodrama. It is the story of a grief-stricken husband, played by Tarun Bose, who hates his daughter because her mother dies during chidlbirth.  The daughter Uma, beautifully portrayed by Sharmila Tagore, grows up withdrawn and confused by the hostility of her father. Her character is in complete contrast with that of her vivacious friend Anita (played by Shashikala) who tries her best to bring joy into the life of Uma.  A writer Ashok, very sensitively played by Dharmendra, falls in love with Uma and manages to touch her heart while succeeding in bringing her out of her shell.  The final scene of the movie is moving enough to bring a lump to your throat; Uma's father finally repents for not loving his daughter for a tragedy that was no fault of her own, just as the train carrying his daughter pulls out of the station. Tarun Bose, Sharmila Tagore, Dharmendra and Shashikala all gave brilliant performances. Tenderly romantic music by Hemant Kumar further highlighted the film.

2 red peppers chopped
2 onions chopped fine
3/4 cup fried paneer cubes (I usually buy paneer blocks and fry cubes at home, which allows me to use a good oil)
3/4 cup crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon kasuri methi
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon oil

  1. Heat the oil.
  2. When heated add the onions and ginger garlic paste and saute on medium high heat till onions are cooked.
  3. Mix the coriander powder, chili powder, turmeric, black pepper, cumin powder and the garam masala with a tablespoon of water and add it to the onions. Saute for a while.
  4. Add the crushed tomatoes and saute for five more minutes.
  5. Now add the peppers and salt, reduce the heat and cook covered till peppers are cooked.
  6. Now add the paneer cubes and the crushed kasuri methi, heat through and serve hot.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cabbage koshimbir and 'Chitchor'

Growing up, my mom enforced the age-old adage "clean your plate."  I was to eat everything served on my plate, even the vegetables. While I liked the few benign veggies like potatoes and peas as a kid, other vegetables like cauliflower and green beans ranked pretty low on my favorite food list. Cabbage in particular was not in my good books unless of course it was made into a koshimbir! Then it suddenly converted into an appetizing crunchy mix that I happily ate by the bowlful.  The traditional Marathi recipe includes shredded coconut but my mom always made it with coarsely ground peanuts.  The recipe below serves four.

In the seventies, there was a sudden spurt of films that deviated from the usual norm of stories that revolved around the extreme rich or the extreme poor.  Films like "
Rajnigandha" and "Chotisi Baat" that had stories portraying the middle class were like a breath of fresh air.  One such film from the same director Basu Chatterji was "Chitchor." This light and simple tale set in a village has remarkably believable characters.  Not only do Amol Palekar, Zareena Wahab and Vijayendra fit in their respective roles, it is almost like the whole set of characters is woven from real life people.  This has Ravindra Jain's best music to date.

2 cups shredded cabbage
1 tomato chopped
2 tablespoons coarsely ground peanuts
Salt to taste
1 green chilli chopped
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon oil
Dash of Hing
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
Cilantro for garnishing

  1. Combine the shredded cabbage, chopped tomatoes and ground peanuts.
  2. Add salt to taste.
  3. Heat oil.  Add the cumin seeds.  When they splutter, add the hing and chopped green chillies.
  4. Pour the above over the cabbage, add the lemon juice, and mix well.
  5. Garnish with cilantro.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Vegetable Fried Rice and "Guide"

At a get-together, one of the ladies boasted that she had decided that she would take one day off of cooking every week.  She had done this by declaring every Friday a 'leftover' day.  I thought it was a cute idea and decided to do the same - only I realized that on a daily basis I didn't really have any leftovers ... except rice.  Hence the recipe for vegetable fried rice was born.

If you think about it, "
Guide" was a film that was way ahead of its time.  The screen adaptation of R.K. Narayan's novel excelled on many levels.  The story was different from the usual 'boy meets girl' sagas.  Dev Anand gave us his finest performance to date as Raju the guide.  Waheeda also won many awards for her role as Rosie.  Add to that S.D. Burman's music and Vijay Anand's direction, and you have the ultimate masterpiece.

2 cups leftover cooked basmati rice
2 cups mixed vegetables (french cut beans, julienned carrots, cauliflower florets, and peas)
1 onion sliced
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tablespoon oil
1/4 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cumin seeds

  1. Heat oil in a pan.  When heated add the cumin seeds.
  2. When they splutter, add the crushed garlic and sliced onion.
  3. When the onion browns add the vegetables and salt.  Reduce heat.
  4. Cook covered till the vegetables are tender.
  5. Now add the rice, garam masala, chili powder, and lemon juice.  Mix well.
  6. Serve warm.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Kofta Curry and "Devdas"

One summer, my neighbor had a bountiful crop of zucchini in her backyard and she happily presented me with a dozen. You don't get zucchinis in India, and so I had no idea what to do with them ... and said as much. She suggested zucchini bread, which took care of one or two, but how much zucchini bread can one eat?  So on a whim, one afternoon, I decided to substitute grated zucchini for the grated lauki in my kofta curry recipe. And I have been doing it ever since.  The recipe below serves four.

This week's movie is "
Devdas."  Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay was one of Bengal's most famous authors. His novels have been translated into many other Indian languages including Marathi which allowed my mother to enjoy them as well.  A lot of his novels have been made into movies, "Parineeta," "Biraj Bahu," and of course "Devdas."  "Devdas" has been made into a movie three times.  The second one with Dilip Kumar, Suchitra Sen, and Vyjayatimala boasted good music and fine performances, but it is the latest one that I like the best.  Shahrukh Khan's Devdas is brilliant in patches. But it is the acting of Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit that weave it into the irresistible tragedy set in the India of the early 1930s - with lavish sets and pleasing music.

For the koftas
1 cup grated zucchini
3/4 cups besan
1 small onion chopped
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped coriander leaves
Oil for frying

For the gravy
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon garlic ginger
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon coriander powder
1 tablespoon ground almonds
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt to taste

  1. Mix the grated zucchini, besan, salt, chili powder and chopped onion and cilantro.
  2. Form round koftas and fry in medium hot oil till brown in color. Set aside.
  3. Whisk the crushed tomatoes with yogurt, ginger garlic, salt, turmeric and chili powder.
  4. Heat oil in a pan and add the tomato mixture.
  5. Stir for a while on medium high heat then cover and simmer till oil separates.
  6. Add the ground almonds, coriander powder and garam masala. Stir for 1-2 minutes.
  7. Add the heavy cream and the koftas.
  8. Heat through and serve hot with parathas.
Note: Add the koftas only just before serving.  You can substitute the zucchini with 1 cup grated cabbage.