Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Green Beans and Bell Pepper Subzi

In an effort to eat healthy and not tear out my hair in the decision making process on a hectic weekday, my husband and I have come up with a technique that we have begun implementing from last week. It remains to be seen if it will be effective enough to continue.
Every weekend, we go through the refrigerator and pantry shelves, check what is available and then make a list of what we would like to have for lunch and dinner, for every day of the coming week. Grocery shopping also becomes easier and less impulsive when I know exactly what I need to shop for. Evenings are less stressful too since I already know what I need to do to get dinner on the table in time. If possible, I try and do the prep work beforehand, like chopping vegetables or boiling dals and lentils.
My recent trip into the Sprouts Farmer's market had me coming back with a big bunch of fresh green beans and luscious red bell peppers or capsicums as they are known in India. I decided to pair it up with whole wheat chapaties for this evening's dinner.
Fresh green beans usually needs to be cooked for some time to get it tender enough to absorb all the flavourings. earlier, I used to prepare the seasonings, add the fresh beans , sufficient water, spices and just cook it till tender. But this time I decided to use as less water as possible. I decided to steam the beans instead of boiling and I liked the result !
Try for yourselves -


Big bunch of fresh green beans
(I don't know what quantity it was, but it was enough to make 8-10 servings!)
1 medium sized bell pepper (any colour, I used red), finely chopped
1 tsp coriander seed powder
1 tsp cumin seed powder
1 tsp garam masala (or any other masala of choice)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper / paprika
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
pinch of sugar
2 tsp lemon or lime juice
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander/ cilantro leaves
2 tbsp peanuts, powdered


1 tsp canola oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
generous pinch of asafoetida
2 -3 curry leaves (optional, but really enhances the taste)


Steam the fresh green beans in a double boiler. If you don't have one, improvise ! That's what I did..Brought a pot of water to boil. Put the chopped beans into the steamer plate that is included with any rice cooker. Placed the plate over the pot of boiling water and covered the plate. Steamed for about 15 minutes.

1. Heat the oil in a pan. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and roast until the mustard seeds start popping.
2. Add the asafoetida and curry leaves and saute for some more time.
3. Add the coriander and cumin seed powders, cayenne pepper, salt and sugar and mix well.
4. Add the chopped bell pepper and saute for about 5 minutes, until the pepper starts getting tender.
5. Add the steamed green beans and mix well so that the spices coat the vegetable pieces well.
6. Add the garam masala and the peanuts and about a quarter cup of water.
7. Mix well, cover and let cook for about 5 minutes.
8. Take off from stove, add in the lemon juice, mix well and serve hot with chapaties, tortillas or as a side dish with rice !

This subzi also makes a wonderful sandwich or wrap filling.

The steaming retained the colour of the beans better than boiling. I liked that the beans were tender yet a little crunchy. The flavour from the spices was not overwhelming and complemented the beans quite nicely !
This subzi is sure to be seen on my cooking list often.

What methods do you employ to have a worry free week day ?

Lost in Time ?

Time - The one thing that is the epitome of constantly moving forward and never looking backwards. The only dimension that surges ahead no matter what - come summer or winter, rain or frost, peace or war, happiness or dejection - it doesnt stop for anyone or anything. The passing of time brings along with it many changes. Nations advance, societies change, cities replace towns and villages,modernity replaces antiquity. This in itself is nothing to be worried about, I guess.. Its a given fact that things will change, for better and for worse.
We gain a lot of things as time progresses, but how much and what do we lose ?
Some time back, a friend's mother and I were discussing in general how people used to be quite self sufficient in the way they led their lives. They maintained livestock for their dairy needs, grew vegetables and fruits for consumption, cultivated fields to provide food, knitted clothes, fixed up roofs and walls as much as possible..if they didnt have a particular commodity, they would barter with neighbours and friends and be satisfied. Paying loads of money to get the basic necessities of life was quite unheard of. In fact, if a family had to pay to get something it would indicate a lack of skills or a lack of good upbringing (for a woman who wasnt able to make things herself!!)
However, as time evolved,societies progressed and modernity became the fashion of the day, this ability to put one's own effort into making our lives comfortable is not as appreciated as before and is dying a slow death at the hands of convenience. Farms made way for modern buildings, barns were replaced by garages and old houses were torn down in favour of high rises. All necessities are now purchased. There is hardly a required commodity that is not available if you have the means to pay for it. Making things by hand, at home is left to the few who are either practicing frugal living or have an interest in gaining skills at things like making bread, knitting, woodworking, etc.
What is the point in this monologue, you say ? Well, all said and done, I am all for modernity and convenience where required. But it saddens me to think that all the knowledge and practices of our forefathers and families , small things which were and still are part of their everyday lives, will be forgotten and relegated to memories only.
When I was growing up in Pune, my mother used to reminisce about her bittersweet childhood days in a little village in the Uttar Kannada district. She talked about going to school in heavy rains using umbrellas made with leaves of plants like the palmyra palm , of summer days when she and her sisters would finish their household chores and then dive into the pond for a heavenly swim, of picking raw mangoes from trees and eating them with salt and pepper ! She would go into ecstasies about the sugarcane season when fresh jaggery would be made and the first batch would contain fresh coconut pieces, ginger, lotus stems ! Her memories of my uncle going to village fairs sitting on my grandfather's shoulders, of clutching a 10 paise coin and trying to make up her mind about what to spend it on were very nostalgic indeed...How quaint and idyllic it all sounded. For city bred kids like me, it was both wondrous and alarming !
I am sure there are scores of people from my own generation who share my lack of village life knowledge. On the other hand, there must also be scores of my peers who did grow up in small cities and villages and have had an intimate, first hand look at my mother's experiences. But I cant say the same for our children or from children in the next generation. One might very well say that its not a big deal and today's or tomorrow's kids do not need to know at all, but for me...village life and all the toils and joys associated with it is part of our culture, it has a simplicity of its own, an earthiness and humility that we are in danger of forgetting if we don't hold on to it..
I have therefore made a simple list of things and activities that I can do in my life time, along with my family that will help us preserve this life, if only in memories and photographs:

* Visit our native place during the sugarcane season and participate in the small festival that is celebrated at this time.
* Eat sugarcane with my family.
* Watch the process of making jaggery.
* Learn how to milk a cow (!!!!) ( Cows are notoriously finicky about who they will allow to milk I will have to find a really docile cow back home :D)
* Pick fresh jasmine flowers and make a garland out of it.
* Drink fresh tender coconut water.
* Learn how to make pickles and papads. (This continues to be a major summer time activity in many Indian households today with neighbours pitching in to help.)
* Learn how to pollinate a vanilla flower.
* Learn about the various festivals celebrated in our heritage and then acknowledge those festivals every year.(It doesn't have to be a grand celebration).
* Get acquainted with the stories in the Bhagwad Gita and other ancient texts and read them out to my son as he grows up.

Hopefully I will be able to complete the things listed here and add to this list. I am aware that these are very minor activities and thinking that on their completion I will have achieved something worthwhile would be very absurd. That is not my intention here at all. My wish is just to remember that we have a culture that is very rich and ancient. It doesnt deserve to be neglected and forgotten. This effort would just be my attempt to keep up with Time, but not forgetting about what it has left behind in its march towards the future.

What would you have in your list if you compiled one ?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Yummy Tiramisu (without Eggs and liqueur)

The first time I ever heard the word 'Tiramisu' was in front of the erstwhile Holiday Inn, in Pune (I believe its now the Sun and Sands). It was a cool night, my friends and I were returning home after a movie and my room mate S exclaimed that the Tiramisu at the Holiday Inn cafe was absolutely delicious ! Now I don't exactly remember the sequence of events ( this was some 7-8 years ago ), all I do remember is that I never got to taste the famed Italian dessert, we had to satisfy ourselves with some ever delicious chocolate ice cream instead..
After that I forgot all about it.

Tiramisu is an Italian layered dessert meaning 'pick me up' or 'cheer me up'. (Probably due the coffee/espresso and sugar used in the dessert !!). The original recipe consisted of briefly soaking the special lady finger biscuits (savoiardi - long finger like delicate biscuits which are super absorbent) into espresso (with an optional splash of brandy). These are then layered with a mixture of mascarpone cheese and a custard made with eggs, Marsala wine and sugar. A light sprinkling of cocoa powder or chocolate shavings provides a subtle finish. The whole thing is refrigerated for some time before serving.

I kept coming across the item in most of the menus when I came to the US. I never tried it though. Recently I decided to try it out at home myself...I checked out a few recipes on the web and most of them either had some kind of a liqueur or an egg-based custard. Since I do not use either in my cooking, my recipe options were limited. Eventually I did find one and reproduced it with delicious results !

20 - Savoiardi (Lady finger biscuits)
16 oz plain mascarpone cheese
1.5 cups strong coffee or espresso (cooled)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/3 C powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla / almond extract
cocoa powder or chocolate shavings
finely chopped nuts (optional)

1. Prepare the coffee / espresso beforehand and make sure it is cool.
2. Remove the cheese from the refrigerator and make sure it gets to room temparature.
3. Whip the heavy whipping cream in a large container. ( A hand held mixer can do this in minutes)
When the cream starts getting thicker, add about half the amount of the sugar and the vanilla and whip again for a couple of minutes until stiff peaks are formed.
4. Mix the remaining sugar well with the mascarpone sugar. Gently fold in the whipped cream into the mascarpone cheese, in batches if required. This is to be done with a light hand so that the whipped cream doesn't lose all its airiness !Keep aside.
5. Dip the lady fingers into the coffee for 2 seconds on each side. ( This might depend on the type of biscuits used. They should not get too soggy, just enough to soak some of the coffee).
6.Lay them into a 9 X 13 glass dish or any container of your choice. Once the base of the container is covered with the coffee-laden biscuits, pour half of the whipped cream - mascarpone mixture over them and gently spread over the entire surface.
7.An optional step here would be to sprinkle some nuts and chocolate shavings over the first layer.
8.Repeat the process with the remaining lady fingers and the whipped cream mixture.
9. Sprinkle cocoa powder over the whipped cream. Cover with plastic wrap / foil and set into the refrigerator. Keep chilled until time to serve.

Slice into squares and enjoy !!!

Since I have not tasted any other kind of Tiramisu, I have no idea how close( or distant !!) it is to the original recipe. I am sure the inclusion of Kahlua (coffee liquer) or an egg based custard might produce superior results. You will have to test that and judge for yourself. But this version, although a very plain and basic one, did not disappoint me. The biscuits were soaked just right and had a melt in the mouth feel to the dish. The taste of the coffee was very pronounced. I could try using espresso or a different flavoured coffee for a slight variation. The whipped cream mixture could also be flavoured differently. That however, is for another post !

Ciao !

Here are a few other Tiramisu recipes:

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Jai Ganesh !

Wishing all readers a very Happy Vinayak Chaturthi !

This is the day when scores of people celebrate the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the elephant headed son of Shiva and Parvati.Ganesha is revered as the God of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. In any religious ceremony, the first offerings are always made to Ganapati*. Ekadanta* (One who has a single tooth) is also the first one to be worshipped when any new task is to be started. This is supposed to ensure good luck and bring prosperity and wealth in all new ventures ! The mythological story about Lord Ganesha is a very captivating one..It is a story that is told and retold by grandparents to their beloved grandkids ! (Click here to read the story :-) ) Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the festivals that is celebrated widely throughout the state of Karnataka (Maharashtra, Goa and Andhra Pradesh are the other states where this festival is also accorded a lot of importance).
I remember from my childhood, when my mother used to start preparing sweetmeats well in advance of the festival. Chaklis, various kinds of laddus, chivda were the most common ones..Then on the day of the festival too, she used to prepare, modaks and karanjis, sometimes kadubus(a special kind of a sweet, wrapped in turmeric leaves and steamed and served with fragrant ghee!). My grandmother used to send a packet all the way from our village and it used to contain another variety of goodies..home made sev and more chaklis..
It does seem that festivals are all about food ! In addition they were also all about families coming together and celebrating together!Nostalgia aside, it is still a very effective method of bringing families and friends together, of communal harmony, giving a sense of belonging. The beautiful stories keep the children enthralled and give them a sense of wonder about their heritage !
In my humble opinion, modern thoughts and actions give us the freedom to soar up to the sky,
but its our heritage and traditions that give us roots and keep us firmly on the ground ! How wonderful would it be to be able to use both to have a richer and fuller life !!!
On that note I give here a recipe for the traditional panchakajjaya (offering to God with 5 ingredients)..This is a simple yet delicious treat, often offered as prasadam and is often prepared when time is of the essence !
Panchakhadya, as it is also known, is also regarded as one of Lord Ganesha's favourites !

1 cup roasted chana dal (dalia)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup white sesame seeds
1/4 - 1/2 C grated coconut (can use either fresh or dessicated)
1/4 C cashew pieces
3 cardamoms
2 cloves


1. Lightly roast the dalia in a tsp of ghee. (Although this is optional, it gives a great texture and taste to the final product).
2. Also roast the sesame seeds until light brown. Do this on a low flame so that the sesame seeds dont get scorched. Sesame seeds will be bitter if burnt, so beware !
3. Coarsely grind the dalia, sesame seeds and the sugar.
4. Lightly toast the coconut in another tsp of ghee.
5. Combine the coconut with the dalia sesame mixture.
6. Fry the cashews and add them to the above mixture.
7. Powder the cardamoms and the cloves and sprinkle over the mixture.
8. Turn well with a spoon so that all the ingredients are well mixed.

The panchakajjaya is now ready to be served.

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi to everybody !

ಗಜಮುಖನೆ ಗಣಪತಿಯೇ ನಿನಗೆ ವಂದನೆ
ನಂಬಿದವರ ಪಾಲಿಗೆ ಕಲ್ಪತರು ನೀನೆ...

(Translation: This is a kannada devotional song, much loved by kannada audiences, sung as a glorifying ode to dear Lord Ganesh. "Oh Ganapati , with the face of an elephant, we offer our humble prayers to you...for all those who believe in you, you are the Kalpataru." According to ancient mythology, the Kalpataru is a divine magical tree that has the power to fulfill any wish.