Monday, September 26, 2011

Rajma Masala

Rajma Masala

During the initial days of our married lives when I had just moved to the US, Abhishek used to cook a lot. Not sure if that was to impress his new bride or because the new bride's cooking was not as "edible" as it is now, but he'd cook. I would wake up to a nicely set table with cumin scented scrambled eggs, crisp brown toast smothered with buttered and cardamom tea boiling in a copper pot perfuming the whole house. Ahh, those blissful newly-wed days! That did not last very long but yes it happened to me. I always say to myself that maybe I very quickly evolved to be a "fabulous" cook and he realized that its time to move out of the kitchen to make home on the couch in front of the television.

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One of the very first things that he cooked for me was a Rajma Masala, red kidney beans cooked with several spices long enough for all the spices to blend together and enter each and every bean in the pot. Rajma Masala he cooked that day was good and he very excitedly told me it was his all time favorite meal, rajma masala drizzled with ghee and steamy puffed rotis on the side. I still wonder why he made his favorite meal to impress me but maybe that was something he knew he will not go wrong with, and he did not. Even today (well until he reads this!) he does not know rajma masala was one of my least favorite dishes until that day. Maybe no one cooked it for me with so much excitement and love before. And now whether it is an occasion or not, if it has anything even remotely to do with making Mr. Singh happy then there has to be Rajma Masala somewhere. If I am making it at home then it should be enough for him to last the next two three meals.



When we were planning a small birthday celebration for him last week this one had to be on the menu. I cooked it as usual and everyone liked it as usual. Now when people ask me for a recipe they assume that they can just check it out on my blog. That's when it hit me that a dish which is my favorite person's favorite meal and is so close to me, I do not have its recipe up on my blog. That is just not right. So I made amends as soon as I could. Hence sharing the recipe for Rajma Masala and wishing the husband a very belated happy birthday!



Well, the recipe coming up must be the shortest recipe directions/method that I might have written in this entire blog! And if you had read my last post on Indian Curry paste then you might just know the reason why. As I told you in my last post that if you know how to make Indian Curry paste then you can easily make half the curries with no effort. This is what I did with my rajma masala. Just added curry paste to boiled rajma (red kidney beans) and I was good to go. Instead of using canned beans I buy dry beans from the super market, soak them for 6-8 hours and then boil them with salt and cloves. If you think that is too much work for you then you can you use canned beans and you life will be even easier. Just clean your canned beans with water thoroughly before using and give it a nice boil with curry paste and some water. That's how easy this recipe is. So check it out-

Ingredients:

1cup dry red kidney beans (or two 8 oz canned red kidney beans)
2-3 cloves
Salt to taste.
3/4 cup curry paste (recipe in detail here)

Method:
Wash dry beans with water, then soak them in water three times the quantity of beans. In this case I used 3 cups of water. Let it soak in water for 6-8 hours or overnight depending on how fast your beans absorb water and get soft.
Drain all the water. Add fresh water, this time four times the quantity of beans (in this case 4 cups).
Add cloves, salt and pressure cook until the beans are cooked.
If you don't have a pressure cooker I would say using canned beans would be more convenient because it will take you long to cook dry ones. But if you want to do it from scratch then add water enough for the beans to cook in a pot and boil until they are tender.
Once the beans are cooked, add curry paste. Give it another quick boil.
Turn off the heat. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with warm steamed rice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Indian Curry Paste

Saturday was fun and interesting. It was Abhishek's birthday but he had to go to school so he left early leaving me and the little monster with enough time to plan something nice for him. I took this as a good opportunity to go meet a few blogger friends of mine. Spent a lovely afternoon with them talking about food, food blogging and the rest of the world while watching the kids play. All of that was so much fun that I almost forgot that there is a party at my house in the evening and a birthday cake needs to be made. There needs to be a whole post to tell you the story about that birthday and the birthday cake which probably I will do later! But while deciding his birthday menu I realized one thing. One of the most common masala mixture (spice mix) that is used in Indian curries is a curry paste and I never shared a post on it. So I thought before sharing what I cooked for his birthday I should share this basic recipe for curry paste whose variation is present in almost all Indian curries. That might make the next post and many other curry posts easier.

Indian curry paste

Like I have said before every Indian household has its own recipe for any Indian dish and same goes with the curry paste. I come from the northern part of India where curry paste is mostly tomato based. In South Indian kitchens use of curry leaves, coconut, some kind of lentil or tamarind will be prominent. Mughlai cuisine is comprised of whole or ground spices and an addition of cream or a dairy product to make the sauce rich and creamy. Then what you are going to use the curry paste for also makes a difference. If you are going to add meat to your curry, making a rice dish like biryani or tahiri or using it to make a vegetable curry. There are several variations and several ingredients that you can add or remove but I do not want to confuse you with all that. Lets take it a little slow and today talk about the basic Indian Curry Paste recipe which can be used to make almost all kinds of Indian curries. This is a tomato based curry paste recipe which you can also use to make Mughlai curries by adding some extra ingredients. You can add curry leaves too and a few more ingredients and make a South Indian curry with this too.

Ingredients for curry paste

To make an Indian curry paste you need two kinds of masala or mix. One is a wet mix and the other is dry mix. Wet mix is made of fresh ingredients from your pantry which you blend together to make a paste and then later cook with the dry ingredients. The four main ingredients for the wet mix are onions, garlic, ginger and chilis. You can use thai green chili, jalapeno peppers, any other kind of hot peppers or even dried red chili peppers all you want is some heat. If you don't want it hot you can completely omit this ingredient.

Dry masala mix

Now the dry spices used here are basically the spices used to make a garam masala powder. Again many cooks use a few extra spices and some might use a few lesser spices for their garam masala, this is how my family does it. The spices I use to make a garam masala powder are black cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, coriander seeds, cloves, black pepper and bay leaves. Grind all the spices mentioned into a powder and mix it with the wet mix and then cook together. Then finally tomato puree or diced tomatoes are added and cooked until it looses all its water.

Now before getting to the recipe I have to tell you about my friend Joy of Joylicious and this exciting project that has been working on. She is one of the most talented food photographers/bloggers I have come across and is one heck of a girl! Joy and her friends have been working hard at developing a new cooking show geared towards singles and couples. Main goal of this show would be to encourage people to get back in the kitchen and equip them with the confidence and skills to become an efficient home chef. You can learn more about the show by clicking on this link and watching the kickstarter. Joy is trying to raise some money that would help her and her friends get the episodes to gear. So I'd love for you to click on the link, checkout what Joy wants to say and maybe help her spread the word or raise some money.
Alright and now lets come back to the Curry Paste recipe. Here's my recipe for Indian Curry Paste, do you care to share yours?

Ingredients:- (Makes approx. 1.5 cups of curry paste)
(wet paste)
1 cup chopped onion
1 inch ginger
3-4 cloves of garlic
2-3 green chilis (or any chili pepper of your choice)

(dry spice powder)- Only half of it will be used in this recipe for curry paste. You can store the rest in an air tight container for later.
2-3 bay leaves
2 tsp cloves
2 tsp peppercorn
3-4 black cardamom
1/2 Cinnamon stick
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
3 tbsp coriander seeds (you can use 2/2.5 tbsp coriander powder if you don't have seeds) 

other ingredients:
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp ghee (optional)
Salt to taste
1 cup diced tomato

Method:
Grind together ingredients for the wet mix in a food processor or blender/grinder. Use about 3-4 tbsp of water if necessary for the blades to rotate. Set aside.
Grind together all the dry ingredients in a spice or coffee grinder. Set aside.
Heat oil in a thick bottom pan, add wet mix.
Cook it on medium high heat until all the water has evaporated. Once the paste starts getting thicker reduce the heat to medium low, add salt and turmeric.
Cook until the paste starts changing color and gets golden brown in color.
Add ghee. Very soon oil will start to separate. 
Add diced tomato. First the tomatoes begin to melt then slowly all the liquid will evaporate. Cook until the mixture has no liquid left.
Now add dry ingredients. Mix everything well together.
Your curry paste is ready.
Now you can add vegetables if you are making a vegetable curry. Add browned, baked, stir fried or deep fried meat to make a meat curry. You can also add it to rice with a few vegetables and make a tahiri (spicy rice pilaf)
This curry paste can be stored in a refrigerator for weeks. All you have to do is let the paste cool down completely and then transfer it to an air tight container and freeze.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Looking Back- My 7 links & Gojee Feature

A couple weeks back my lovely friend Jenn from gorgeous Jenn Cuisine sent an email to me telling about this fun, kind of a relay post thread floating around the blogosphere called My 7 links. In this post you basically answer a few questions which are mainly about your blog and then hand it over to other bloggers who you love for them to take it forward. Jenn asked if I would want to join. I thought it would be interesting and maybe fun to look back at all those posts that you very carefully collected together for the past sometime. So very excitedly I said yes. But little did I know how difficult it is to comment on your own work. Every post that you put forward on your blog has a little bit of you so to pick a few from the whole bunch is difficult. It took me sometime to answer these very simple questions and although I am still not sure the answers are correct, still I am sharing it with you today.

Most Beautiful Post:-

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I am one of those people who always criticize their own work. Every photograph I take, every dish I make and every post that I share I find some or the other flaw which I later think should have noticed before. So you can only imagine how difficult it must be to answer the very first question in the series. That being said I would say I felt pretty good about one of my very early posts about Pasta in creamy tomato sauce with pumpkin seeds. Not sure if that was my most beautiful post but I had fun shooting each and every photo from that post and looking back I realize that there was some effort that went into it.

Market behind Jama Masjid

As you know I have a series that I run on my blog called Wordless Wednesday which is basically a non-recipe photography post where I share with you some of my photographs. From that series the post that is really close to my heart is the post where I shared the photos I took at Chandani Chowk. Post was named Colors of Chandani Chowk (India). I can't stop staring at all the vibrant, full of life and colorful images from the day when I just walked on one of the most crowded yet popular streets of India.

Most Popular Post:- 

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Most popular post on my blog has to the Homemade Naan with Malai Kofta. It was not before I shared this post on Indian Simmer and I looked at the response of people that I realized how much a simple flatbread that I never gave credit to was so popular all around. I am not a huge fan of the use of yeast in my flatbreads so I usually make my naan without one using different methods. I thought it would go well with Malai Kofta so I shared it here and expected people to like the malai kofta recipe. But instead everyone was more excited about the homemade naan recipe. This post is the one that has been featured in many other blogs and websites. It has been the most searchable post of mine so far, got the most comments and I still get emails from people telling me that they tried the recipe and liked it. 

Most Controversial Post:

Chicken Tikka Masala

I am always open to people's criticism/feedback and always appreciate it either its good or bad. I have been so lucky to always have had a good response from my readers. Once in a while someone would say not so good things about you but I choose to never delete even those from the comment section of my blog. But with my Chicken Tikka Masala and Cumin Scented Rice Pulao there was a different kind of objection that some "anonymous" readers had. The use of a particular beverage which I very innocently used as a prop disturbed some and that created a bit of a discussion. If you know me then you know that I am just not a confrontational kind of a person but those comments hurt me a little because they questioned my ethics. I responded to those comments but as usual the "anonymous" commenter stayed anonymous!

Most Helpful Post:

Making Paneer

Turns out my readers love homemade food and they always appreciate when I share a way to make something that they usually buy from a store, at home. Another homemade recipe that I shared was of Paneer (Indian Cottage Cheese). After naan this has to be another post that I always have people writing to me about. They are amazed at how easy it can be to make paneer at home and they say the post helped them change the way they look at Indian cheeses now. That is a huge compliment!

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Although it has has been pending for a long time now but I started a series named Food Photography- My Process on my blog. The very first post from the series got a great response and feedback from my readers was that it has helped them take a different approach on food photography. In the post I spoke about my planning process and the use of light in food photography. I am so bummed that I am not able to publish the next post from the series and still have readers/friends ask me to work on one. Today I promise I will work on the next post from the series and will share with you soon.

Post Whose Success Surprised me:-

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Another question that is difficult for me to answer. I always think that you, my readers have always been so appreciative of me and always give me a positive feedback. But the following two posts were the ones that I never would have thought that you will like so much. One was A Simple Hindu Pooja Meal. This post I wrote almost an year back, somewhere around the auspicious days of Navratri. Navratri (which literally means nine nights) are nine days when Hindus worship the goddess of strength, prosperity, patience and kindness. The several aspects of woman and we believe goddess Durga is an epitome of that. We cook some dishes that use close to none spices and are called pooja meal. The recipe from this post have again been featured in several places including the one I am going to talk about later in this post and also got a great feedback.

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Another post which I never thought would get such great response was that of Molten Chocolate Liquor Cake.

Post that did not get attention it deserved:

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I might have said before that the belief that Indiasn eat naan everyday at home is not really true. We love naan that is for sure but the bread that we eat everyday at home is not naan but something even simpler like a phulka, dosa, paratha or roti. That is what my grandma used to make everyday, and her grandma AND her grandma! I shared a recipe for the easiest and quickest Indian flatbread on the planet a while back. This post was one of my very early posts when no one knew who Prerna or Indian Simmer was. Maybe that's why it never got the attention of people but I think if you like Indian food and want to learn about it then you should know Roti- An Indian Staple!

Post I am proud of:-

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The day I try a recipe that my dad loves, or a dish that no can cook better than my mom, or the day I master my husband's favorite dish that he thinks his mom makes best that day is a "I feel proud of myself" day for me. These are the little achievements that make me want to try new things and cook something for my family that they have never eaten before. But then someday you cook for a cause, you cook to show how much you care about something and to show your support. When those dishes and those posts get the support of readers like you that makes me feel prouder. One such post is Rose Panna Cotta- Celebrating Pinktober. I have many close friends and family who have been touched by cancer so the topic is personal to me. I will do anything to spread awareness about the topic, this was one such effort.

So here are my 7 links. Hope you liked them. I would also want to nominate five blogger friends of mine who run absolutely gorgeous blogs. I know you would love them if you don't already know them.
Kulsum from Journey Kitchen
Joy from Joylicious
Sabrina from the Tomato Tart
Radhika from Food For the 7 Stages of Life
Sala from Veggie Belly

And now the other news that I am excited about lately. Gojee.com approached me a while back and asked if I would like to be a featured contributor to their website. My answer was, "hell to the yeah!". I have been a fan of the website ever since they launched it. They are fun people and that shows through. Today they are revealing the contributors on their website which includes some very well known names and the little me too! Check out Gojee its one of the coolest recipe sites out there.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kadhi Pakora

It has been close to six years since I left homeland and started my own family and a kitchen. There were quite a few initial challenges and kitchen disasters but slowly I think I got a hang of it and started cooking some decent edible food. But there are two things that still make my legs weak when someone asks me to make - Indian pickles or a kadhi. A very close friend of ours is pregnant and the mommy-to-be has been craving kadhi, a lot! Lucky enough for me an Indian restaurant close to our place makes really good kadhi. Every few days I have to make a trip there. But after a few trips I realized I better face this fear and try to perfect the art of making kadhi myself.

Simple Confort Food (kadhi pakora)

There is no right way to make kadhi and you can find tens and hundreds of recipes out there. A Gujarati kadhi (popular in the state of Gujarat), Maharashtrian Kadhi (from the state of Maharshtra), Pujabi kadhi (coming from the state of Punjab), Aunty Sheila’s kadhi, mom’s kadhi and so on… A perfect example of what a traditional Indian food is, everyone has their own version with a few tweaks here and there but fundamentally they are all the same. Simple comfort food that fills up your belly, warms up your heart and you can never have enough of it!

Flour

Kadhi is simply a spiced soup that you make with thinning out yogurt with water and cooking it with some chickpea flour. Yes, that is all what kadhi is and then you can add whatever you want to it and make it your own. Some like to make it with some deep fried chickpea fritters, some add veggies or some like my mom make it with tomatoes. Some like to add more water and make it really thin, some don’t and so they add a little more flour to make it denser. Then the use of spices also varies from region to region. In some parts of the country mustard seeds and curry leaves are very important when making kadhi, while in other parts spices like fenugreek seeds and whole dried red chili pepper are used.

Chickpea flour fritters

My mom makes it in one way and my mom in law makes it in another so when I try a recipe like this I take the middle route. Some of hers and some of hers! Some might find this recipe a little closer to the Punjabi kadhi and I would say those frequent trips to the Indian restaurant might have to do with that too. For the tempering, I used the spices that my mom uses and for the consistency I went with my mom in law’s style. I made some deep fried chickpea battered fritters and also some with vegetables. I am sharing the recipe with no vegetables here because that is what is commonly used for kadhi. If these fritters don’t look perfect or they look sloppy to you then please pardon me. Making gorgeous looking and perfectly shaped bhajia is just not my forte so I say “I kinda like them that way!”

Kadhi Pakora

Check out the recipe over at 6 Bittersweets, a gorgeous blog by one of my very good friends Xiaolu. You must remember Xiaolu from one of the most beautiful guest posts on Indian Simmer, the recipe post for orange grand marnier souffle. She is a very talented photographer, blogger and one of the most beautiful blogger friends that I have. Few weeks back she asked me to do a guest post for me and requested I make some kadhi for her and I did! So please head over to 6 Bittersweets for my guest post that I did a couple days back.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pickled Red Chili Peppers

After two weeks of crying, whining and emotional blackmailing, today was the first day our little monster and I had a calm ride up to the daycare. It is a little tough to see that "maa why are you doing this to me/us?" look in her eyes but slowly things are getting better (at least beginning to!).  Abhishek aka A started his business school a few weeks back which got him busier and hence made it even tougher for me to answer all her questions, verbal and non-verbal. Where are we going? Why are we going? When will we get back? and now adding to the list, Is Papa coming? Why not? Why does he need to study? How long will he study?! Papa is the one who tells her all the stupid imaginative stories and answers all her questions. When he is not around Maa becomes clueless. I am neither imaginative nor a good story teller for a two year old! But after a month of exercising immense patience and perseverance, I am slowly getting a hang of that too (at least beginning to!). This is what kept me from coming here and sharing stories with you on Indian Simmer. After all the lion, mouse and dragon stories, I was left with no creativity by the end of the day and I did not want to write a post just for the heck of it. So I kept quiet here and tried to take care of one part of my life first. Hope you missed me because I missed you like nothing else!



Not a lot happened here on my blog but there was still a lot going on in the kitchen. There were some new recipes developed, some new flavors tasted and some old school Indian recipes that I tried to learn. Some of them that I am really proud of are my mother-in-law's kadhi that now I can tell her that I have mastered and a few pickles that my mom makes. My take on mummy's aam ka aachar, pickeled raw mangoes in which I used green apples instead (will share the recipe soon) and pickled red chili peppers.

Pickled red chili peppers

My mother might not be the most adventurous cook in the world but there are few things that no one can ever, ever cook better than her. She makes okra fry that I have never tasted anywhere else and I have eaten a lot of okras! And no one can pickle red chili peppers like her. I am not saying this because she is my mom and her food will always be the best in my eyes, but seriously she just knows how to do it right! I have tried a lot of her pickle recipes but never tried pickling red chili peppers because I never found the peppers that looked like the ones she uses to make hers in India.

Red HOT peppers

But few days back I got lucky when I entered a small grocery store run by a Mexican family. They have the freshest and gorgeous looking produce from the local farms right in their tiny store. And I fell in love with the place the moment I saw those red chili peppers lying on a brown jute basket underneath the shelves. I swear I screamed when I saw them, grabbed as many as I could, brought them home and did what I had wanted to do with them for the past six years. Filled several jars with pickled red chili peppers.

Pickling red chili peppers

Although according to my mom you should not eat it until its been in there for at least a couple months. They say the longer you keep Indian pickles sealed and stored in a cool, dry place the better they taste. Longer they are allowed to blend in with the spices the more they absorb flavors and taste better. If stored in favorable conditions they stay good for years. But I couldn't resist and a half jar is already gone. So beware, they can be hot, spicy and way too much addictive!

Ingredients:
About 45-50 medium sized red chili peppers (I used Fresno peppers)
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp Nigella
50 grms fennel seeds (approx. 2 oz)
50 grms coriander seeds (approx. 2 oz)
50 grms mustard seeds (approx. 2 oz)
50 grms Aamchur (dried mango powder) (approx. 2 oz)
200grms Salt (approx. 7 oz)
8 oz virgin mustard oil.

Method:

Thoroughly clean the peppers with water, pat dry them, spread it on a baking sheet or something similar and lay it out in open sun to dehydrate a little. 4-5 hours of nice hot sun or an hour in the oven at 170 deg. F should be just right. You just want the outer skin just to get a few wrinkles.
Clean the jars you are going to use for canning and let them air dry as well.
In a pan roast fennel seeds, cumin, fenugreek seeds and nigella over medium high heat just for 3-5 minutes until begin to smell the spices. Turn of the heat, set it aside and let it cool.
Coarsely grind all the spices mix it with half (around 4 oz) of oil.
To fill the peppers you can do it in two ways, either make a long slit lengthwise and fill it with the spices or chop the head off, take out the seeds from inside and then fill it with the prepared spices. I do the latter and I also mix the seeds I take out from inside of the peppers into the spice mix and fill it into the peppers.
After filling the pepers you can either dip each pepper in oil and then place it in the jar or fill the jar with the stuffed peppers and then pour oil over it.
Airtight the jars and store in cool, dry place. 
Every couple days shake the jars a little so the oil slowly coats all the peppers.
You can dig into the pickles in a couple weeks time but ideal would be to open the jars not before at least a month.
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