June 30, 2009

Just A Little Chocolate!


Every month Bee and Jai faithfully announce a theme for their food photography event, Click. I haven't been able to participate regularly these past months for various reasons. Last month I managed to take the pictures and send them in, only to discover that I had missed the deadline!
Yesterday I discovered that next month's theme was announced three days back and that I was yet to submit a picture for this month's edition of Click. Today happens to be the deadline for this month's edition!!

So what does all this have to do with chocolate?
Nothing much except that I really like chocolate. So it's not surprising that while looking for inspiration for some pictures, I ended up with an idea of using chocolate as my subject.

The theme at Click this month is "Stacks" and here are 3 of the many pictures I took. I, personally, like all three of them but am choosing the first one to send in for the event.




This first picture is very well focused and the textured edges of the chocolate pieces show up very nicely.




The cherry in this picture is in focus with a slightly blurred chocolate stack (wouldn't do for Click, I think) giving the cherry a floating look.




This picture is really my favourite, in terms of composition (the arrangement was done by Akshaya), but the focus in this picture is the stem of the cherry (which, again, wouldn't do for Click).

And I leave you all with an anonymous quote which touches a chord in me; "I could give up chocolate but I'm not a quitter."


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June 28, 2009

Potato Focaccia Pugliese (An Italian Flatbread)


Focaccia is an Italian yeasted, oiled and herbed flat bread which somewhat resembles a pizza. Unlike pizza, focaccia is more about the bread than the toppings. So focaccia is usually lightly topped with sea salt, herbs and sometimes sun dried tomatoes, garlic or olives such that they do not take your attention away from the bread. Focaccia is usually a rectangular bread though it can be shaped into a circle as well.





Potato focaccia pugliese is nothing but a potato topped focaccia supposedly from the Puglia region of Italy. I have no idea how authentic this recipe is, which I had saved it from an ancient issue of Femina.
The first time I made this was way back when I was still dreaming of baking my own bread. (Now I dream of baking the "perfect" bread!)
At that time, probably because I didn't know too much about "yeasty and bready" stuff, I ended up with a flat bread which wasn't even remotely related to a focaccia. Thankfully, matters have improved since.





At the beginning of the month, Zorra announced that Bread Baking Day was celebrating its second anniversary with a pizza party. I was mentally preparing myself to make pizza. when I saw that she had also mentioned that other similar flatbreads with toppings were welcome.

So it was time to revisit my focaccia recipe.
When I last made this focaccia, I found that the potatoes were uncooked and very chewy, even though the focaccia had cooked.
So this time, I sliced the potatoes a little thicker (about 1/4" thick) and partially cooked them in salted water before using them as topping.





I have altered the basic dough a bit by substituting half the all purpose flour with whole-wheat flour. I also used a bit of honey to help the yeast along. I don't get fresh rosemary here, so I used dried rosemary instead kneading half of it into the dough.

This rosemary flavoured potato focaccia is very soft with a nice crust. It is so easy to make, takes very little effort, looks so pretty and tastes great.
Potato Focaccia Pugliese
 
 
 
Ingredients:


1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast*

1 1/2 tsp honey

1/3 tsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil plus extra for brushing and drizzling

4 medium sized potatoes

sea salt and pepper to taste (optional)

2 tsp dried rosemary (use fresh if you have it and half the amount)
*I used some yeast which was supposed to be "especially for whole grain breads". I'm not sure, but I think this might have more "yeast power" then regular active dry yeast. So if you are using regular, you might want to increase the yeast to 1 3/4 tsp.



Method:


As I mentioned, I partially cooked the potato slices.
So peel and slice the potatoes somewhat thinly (about 1/4"thick) and par-boil them in salted water (you might want to watch the salt here, if you're planning to use sea salt later).  Drain and pat the potato slices dry. Keep aside.
Dissolve the yeast and honey in about 1/2 cup of warm water and allow to proof (about 5 to 10 minutes).

You may knead the dough by hand; I did it in my food processor. Put the flours, 1/3rd tsp salt, 1 tsp rosemary (if using dried herbs only) and oil in the food processor. Pulse a couple of times to mix. Add the yeast mixture and knead, adding just enough water to obtain a smooth and elastic dough. It should not be sticky.
 

Place the dough in a well oiled bowl and roll the dough in the bowl to coat it with oil. Cover and allow to rise till double (about half an hour).
Gently deflate the dough and knead a couple of times. Oil a rectangular tin (I used an 11" by 7" tin) and, using your fingers, press the dough out to cover the tin in uniform thickness.

Using your fingers, dimple the top of the dough. Brush the top of the focaccia dough with oil. Sprinkle the rosemary (fresh, or remaining 1 tsp dried) and then arrange the potato slices to cover the surface of the dough.
Sprinkle sea salt (if using) and freshly crushed black pepper.


 
Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise for about an hour. Bake the focaccia at 220C for 30 minutes till the potato starts browning and the focaccia is a nice brown colour and sounds hollow when tapped.

Serve warm as it is, or as a snack/ appetizer or maybe with soup or as part of a meal. This recipe should serve 4.

This goes to BBD #21 – Pizza Party and to YeastSpotting, of course.


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June 27, 2009

A Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding that ...er... Baked Well! Daring baker Challenge June 2009


Today is the 27th of the month and once more the time for yet another Daring Baker post. I do sometimes wonder what those who are not Daring Bakers must think when so many similar posts pop up on food blogs all over the world.
Do they look forward to seeing our efforts or do they think "Not another one!" I wonder……….

But before I go further, may I mention that the June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar? They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Bakewell tarts…er…puddings combine a number of dessert elements but still let you show off your area’s seasonal fruits.
Like many regional dishes there’s no “one way” to make a Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding, but most of today’s versions fall within one of two types. The first is the “pudding” where a layer of jam is covered by an almondy pastry cream and baked in puff pastry. The second is the “tart” where a rich shortcrust pastry holds jam and an almondy sponge cake-like filling.
This version is a combination of the two: a sweet almond-flavoured shortcrust pastry, frangipane and jam.




Another challenge that was new to me, though I had heard of the Bakewell Tart and there's a recipe and picture of it in one of my cookbooks. You can find a detailed Bakewell Tart history and lore on the hosts' blogs and the recipe here.
It wasn't too difficult to do, and I actually did this challenge early in the month to avoid last minute disasters (I don't work very well under too much pressure!).


My Bakewell Tart Experience:

In my usual fashion, I wanted to see if I could do an egg-free challenge. I halved the recipes for both the dough and the frangipane and decided to make 6 mini-tarts instead of 1 big tart. We were given the option of making our own jam, but I took the easy way out and chose to use a store bought mango jam.


Sweet shortcrust pastry:

I simply left out the egg yolks in the pastry dough and added very little of chilled water to bring the dough together.

Making the dough was a breeze. I prefer to use the food processor for making tart/ pie-crust dough because it means that since my hands aren't warming up the dough, it stays cooler and I get a better texture for my tart/ pie shell.

I divided the dough into 6 pieces, rolled out each into a circle just right to fit my muffin pans. This also meant that I had very little leftover dough scraps.



Cardamom flavoured almond frangipane:

I started out making my own almond meal as that's something we don't get here in the stores. I have made this before for some of the other DB challenges and grinding whole almonds to as fine a powder as possible. Too much grinding can make it a paste.

I store my stock of nuts in the freezer and this time I just blitzed the almonds in my mixer/ grinder, straight out of my freezer. I got a slightly finer almond meal than usual, but I'm sure this wasn't very kind on the blade!

Substituting for 1 egg is always easier.
One suggestion at the Alternative DB forum was to use egg replacers like Ener-G, but this is something I don't get here. So I used what I had previously used in my cheesecake challenge. Since the frangipane here is also somewhat like a custard, I figured using a paste of 3 tbsp tofu + 2 tsp cornstarch for every egg to be substituted.

I also added 1/2 a tsp freshly powdered cardamom which would pair well with the mango jam I was going to use. I also left out the almond extract here and used vanilla extract instead.
Otherwise, this step was also easy to do.


Assembling the mini-tarts:




This wasn't too difficult. I lined the muffin pans with the rolled out pastry, trimmed the edges and fluted them. Then I chilled them for about 15 minutes. This helps keep their shape while filling them.

Sometimes, it happens that the jam leaks out of the pastry shell during baking. One way to prevent this is to brush the bottom of the tart shell with egg white and then blind-bake it. Another is to brush a layer of chocolate. So naturally, I chose chocolate!
So, I spread a nice layer of melted semi-sweet chocolate on the bottom of my mini-tarts and chilled them for 10 minutes to set the chocolate.

Then I spread a thin layer of mango jam and chilled the mini-tarts again, for another 15 minutes before filling them up with the frangipane. I decorated them with halved almonds as I don't get flaked almonds either, and I just wasn't keen (or daring) enough to that by hand!

I ended up baking my mini-tarts for 40 minutes, 10 minutes more than specified, before they took on a nice brown colour. They were still a little soft to touch, but cooked through.



Verdict:

My mini-tarts had puffed up beautifully in the oven but they caved in slightly once they had cooled down. Other than this minor aesthetic hitch in the whole process, this was one easy challenge.

The sweet short-crust pastry was very flaky and the frangipane was soft and almost cake-like in appearance and texture. The chocolate I used also balanced out the sweetness of my mango jam. And using tofu worked.
An interesting textured and tasty dessert on the whole was the general consensus.


You'll find lots more beautifully baked Bakewell Tarts…er…Puddings here.




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June 24, 2009

A Touch of Mango Madness (contd.): Mango Salsa


For a long time, to me, salsa was a Latin dance that woke up the rhythm inside you and set the floor on fire with its mesmerizing foot work and moves. A couple of years back, I discovered that salsa was also something that could grace your table.
In fact, if you Google "what is salsa?" what you get is an umpteen number of links to everything dance.

Seems like salsa is to Mexican and Spanish cooking, what chutneys are to Indian food. The original salsa apparently started out as a condiment of tomatoes, chillies and ground squash seeds in Aztec kitchens. This was served alongside main dishes of meat and fish.




Salsa (the food kind, which is what features in this post) means "sauce" in Spanish and has come to refer to a relish or salad-like preparation made of mostly of chopped raw tomatoes and onions, chillies, lime juice and coriander (cilantro) leaves. This sounds remarkably like the kind of salad we make and serve in India.

There are versions of salsa which use blanched tomatoes or the salsa is cooked. Variations of the basic salsa are sometimes made substituting some other vegetable or fruit for tomatoes. All salsas have some amount of chillies in them.




I came upon this version of salsa while looking for something else. The word "mango" jumped out at me and is the main ingredient in this salsa.
There are very few ingredients in this dish. The flavouring is also minimal with just salt and lime juice, with a bit of fire from the chillies, and reinforces that "less is indeed more".

Try this mango salsa as we did, with chappathis, paneer butter (less) masala or a spicy curry and plain yogurt. Otherwise, serve it with stuffed parathas and plain yogurt or maybe just as it is!



Ingredients:


2 cups chopped mango (into small cubes)

1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper (capsicum)

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 green chilli chopped

1 tbsp lime juice

1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

salt to taste



Method:


I have found it is a good thing to ensure that the mangoes you're using here are sweet (of course!), firm and not fibrous.

Put all the ingredients into a bowl, toss together to mix and serve immediately.
You can also make this ahead. Put everything, except the salt and coriander, in a bowl and refrigerate till required. Just before serving, add the salt and chopped coriander, toss well and serve.

This recipe should serve about 3, and maybe a fourth person if the other three are willing to share!

This is my contribution to "The Best of June's Produce", which is this month's theme at The Heart of the Matter – Eating for Life





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June 22, 2009

Eggless Brioche Doughnuts


Last year I remember being prompted by Helen And Peabody to make some doughnuts and then seeing Tanna (who doesn't usually do doughnuts, because she has a excellent doughnut maker in her Dad!) singing praises of a recipe she used to make doughnuts, from Sherry Yard's Dessert by the Yard.

This was way back in February of 2008. I asked her for that recipe which she sent me soon after, but it's taken me almost 1 1/2 years to getting around to make them!!




The first thing that had me a little wary about this doughnut recipe was the need for 4 large eggs! I had a feeling I might end up with "eggy" flavoured doughnuts which no one would be willing to eat.
So I thought I would try to work a substitution for the eggs. I used tofu and cornstarchinstead,  as egg replacer hasn't arrived in my neighbourhood yet. Then I discovered that I had only 60gms of butter in the fridge, where the recipe asked for 1 stick of butter which works out to 113gms!
I had already mixed the sponge, and since the monsoons had put in an appearance of sorts, it was pouring outside. This definitely wasn't the time to go shopping! So I forged ahead with whatever I had, kept my fingers crossed (figuratively, of course!) and desperately hoped that my doughnuts would at the least, be edible.

I am happy to report that my "adapted" version of the original version turned out so good I had to post about it. I shall definitely use this recipe again to make eggless doughnuts.
Here's my version of Sherry Yard's brioche doughnut recipe.



Ingredients:


For the sponge:

2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast

1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature (I used 3%)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon light brown sugar


For the dough:

2 to 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

l/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 tbsp crumbled tofu

4 tsp cornstarch

1/4 cup milk

60 gm unsalted butter, softened

and

oil for frying (I use blended rice bran and sunflower oil)

1 cup powdered sugar for coating, or more to taste



Method:


The sponge:

Combine the yeast and milk in a bowl and whisk until the yeast is dissolved. Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir in the flour and brown sugar, forming a thick batter. Cover with plastic film and let rest at room tempera¬ture for 30 to 45 minutes, or until bubbles form.


The dough:

Run the crumbled tofu, cornstarch and about 3 tbsp of milk (out of the 1/4 cup milk) in the mixer/ blender till it becomes a smooth paste. Keep aside.

Add the flour, salt, cardamom, and cinnamon to the sponge and mix well using a wooden spoon. Then add the tofu paste, butter and the remaining milk. Knead well till you have a a smooth and elastic dough for about 5 to 8 minutes, dusting with just enough flour to prevent the dough from sticking. Scrape out the dough, wash and dry the bowl, and coat it lightly with oil.

Place the dough in the oiled bowl and turn it so that the top is coated with oil. Cover with plastic film and let rise at room tempera¬ture until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

When the dough has doubled in volume, punch it down by folding it two or three times. Cover with plastic film and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.

Using a rolling pin, roll it out to a thickness of 1/2 inch. If the dough is difficult to handle after rolling, refrigerate it for about 20 minutes.
Cut the dough using a doughnut cutter or two round cutters of gradu¬ated size. Dip the cutters in flour each time to make it easier. Once cut, the dough can be stored in the freezer for up to 1 week. If you choose to freeze them, defrost in the refrigerator and then let them sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before frying.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet, wide, heavy saucepan, or deep fryer over medium heat. Fry the doughnuts till they're a nice dark golden brown all over.

Remove the doughnuts from the oil and drain them on paper towels for 30 seconds before coating them with the powdered sugar. Repeat with the remaining doughnuts. Serve them as soon as possible. The fried doughnuts stay fresh for only about 2-3 hours.
This recipe gave me 20 doughnuts.

They were excellent and I can imagine they must be even better should you choose to follow the original recipe. I have never eaten doughnuts flavoured with cardamom and found it a pleasant change from cinnamon.
I prefer doughnuts that are not glazed or filled with jam, so I just dusted them with powdered sugar. These doughnuts are also not sweet at all so if you like yours sweeter, I would suggest you increase the amount of sugar to 2 or 2 1/2 tbsps while mixing the dough.




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June 19, 2009

A Touch of Mango Madness: Mango Mini-Galettes


Every season ushers in its own particular fruits and vegetables. Summer in India sees a mind-boggling variety of sweet, succulent mangoes taking over our markets. Given that India has varying climatic zones as one moves from one end of the country to another, this means that summer starts sometime in March in south India and ends in June/ July in the north.
Everyone has their own favourite fruit, and mangoes are most definitely ours. So every summer we get touched by a little bit of mango madness which we try to make the most of. Looks like our forefathers (foremothers?) were touched by the same fever considering the numerous ways we have of cooking mangoes, both raw and ripe.

The rainy season/ monsoons are officially here, even though the monsoon itself seems to be vacillating between being here and not!

It is the tail end of the summer in the south even though the northern parts of India will continue to enjoy (maybe I should say suffer, given the prevailing high temperatures) summer for another month and a half.

I was just telling Meeta the other day that her mango mousse was looking so good and it reminded me that the season was almost over here. She told me to make the most of what was left of the season and I took her advice rather whole heartedly.

Apart from eating them fresh, we also found other very good ways to enjoy them. So over the next couple of weeks, I shall be spreading a bit of our mango madness here on this blog.




I had previously bookmarked a few recipes using mangoes, which had caught my fancy. Since canned mango purée is something I have never seen on the supermarket shelves here, so what it meant was that I had to wait till now to try them out.

One of my "must make" recipes was Mark's Mango Galettes.
He and Lisa have this project where they bake from the Tartine cookbook and these galettes were a part of that. You can find the original recipe they used here.

I quartered the recipe because I wanted to make just 3 mini-galettes. I also made a few changes to suit our tastes.
Mango and cardamom is an unbeatable combination, as most Indians know, so I spiced up the mango filling with cardamom and a bit of cinnamon and cloves. These spices tend to enhance the taste of mangoes in desserts.
I also chose to use brown sugar instead of white and left out the egg wash altogether.




The other thing I did different was while incorporating the butter into the flour. I would very strongly advice that you read through the original recipe and the given method for making the pastry before attempting the galettes.
These galettes are quite easy to make and here is my adaptation of that recipe.


Ingredients:


For the pastry:

100gm butter, chilled

1/4 cup very cold water

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour


For the filling:

1 1/2 cup chopped or sliced mango

brown sugar, as required

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 tsp powdered cardamom

1/4 tsp cinnamon powder

2 to 3 cloves, finely crushed/ powdered

.....and some brown sugar, for sprinkling



Method:


First of all, grate the butter (using the larger side) into a bowl. Chill the grated butter very well.

Then add the flour and salt to the butter. Rub the butter into the flour, using a tablespoon, by pressing down on the butter-flour mixture with spoon and dragging it against the bottom of the bowl in a sweeping motion. You can work by moving the spoon away from you towards the side of the bowl further from you. This tends to flatten out the grated butter pieces while incorporating it into the flour.
I hope this isn't confusing. If it is, use the method given the original recipe. I found my method less messy and it also meant I had much less cleaning to do.

This will result in the butter-flour mixture looking somewhat like crumbs, but with larger and flatter bits of butter in it. Using the spoon also ensures that the mixture remains cold, which is very important to produce a flaky and crisp pie/ tart crust.

Chill this mixture for about 15 minutes. Add the water, a little bit at a time, and knead the dough just enough to bring it together. Do not handle the dough more than necessary.
If making a mini-galettes, divide into three equal portions and shape each into a disc. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for about an hour.

Prepare the filling, in the meanwhile, by cooking the mango pieces, sugar and salt till the sugar dissolves and the fruit is just soft. This should take about 5 minutes. Add the cardamom, cinnamon and clove powders and mix well. Take off the heat.

Take out the dough and lightly roll out each portion into a 1/4" thick circle. Put 1/3rd the filling in the centre of each circle and sprinkle some brown sugar over it.
Gather up the edge of the circle together inwards, covering the filling partially and seal in a pleated fashion leaving the centre of the galette open.
Place on a baking sheet and bake at 190C for 45 minutes to an hour till the crust is crisp and a golden brown.
Cool on a rack and serve warm as it is or with ice-cream or a custard sauce.
This recipe serves 3.


I must mention that these galettes were delicious, but this galette crust is the best I have made or eaten so far. And they go over to Srivalli who is celebrating mangoes in a big way with a Mango Mela.




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June 17, 2009

Paneer Butter(less) Masala


There are some dishes which are very popular, so much so that they're automatically identified with a particular cuisine or style of cooking. If you did a Food Blog Search (I'm not even talking about a net search) for one such recipe, you would probably end up with hundreds of matching results, from which you could take your pick.
Why, then, am I also doing a post with one such "much written recipe"?

I am doing this for two reasons.
The first being that my blog is a collection of recipes of the food I cook in my kitchen and so I would be documenting my effort.
The second reason would be probably the reason why that recipe is there on so many food blogs; because that particular dish is so good that so many people have their versions online.
And then I believe that my version might offer a variation on the main theme, either in the ingredients or the way I cook that particular dish.

Paneer butter masala is one such food preparation. There are so many recipes (some with video footage on cooking it) out there for this Punjabi dish, one more recipe (mine) isn't going to make too much of a difference!
There was a time when I hardly used to cook this at home even though we liked paneer butter masala. This was because almost every time we used to eat out and were ordering Punjabi food, our daughter would insist on paneer butter masala (a.k.a. PBM). It got to a point where we used to first extract a promise from her that she would not ask for PBM before we ventured out of the house to eat!
Akshaya has long got over that PBM phase now, though she still enjoys this butter laden paneer dish. So nowadays I do cook paneer butter masala at home and almost always this butterless version.




Paneer butter masala, also known as "Paneer makhani" (makhan is the Hindi word for butter) is a preparation of fried paneer (an Indian cheese) in a spiced butter rich, creamy, onion and tomato based gravy.
Traditionally, this dish is loaded with calories from lots of butter, cream and paneer. One can however, try and make this a little less fattening by making some changes and this is where my recipe for paneer butter (less) masala comes in.

I substitute oil for butter, and use much less of it. I also pan fry/ sauté the paneer instead of deep frying it. Paneer made from low-fat milk can also reduce the calories further. I do not use cream at all here, but use yogurt made from low-fat milk instead.
I do however use a bit of cashew paste to enrich the gravy, or else this dish would lose out on texture and taste quite a bit. That does not mean that all these changes make this dish tasteless.
On the contrary, this makes for very tasty lower calorie dish which has earned a stamp of approval from my resident PBM expert and taster and that counts for a lot.

Here is my version.



Ingredients:


250 gm low fat paneer cubes

1/4 cup warm milk

2 tbsp all purpose flour

2 tbsp oil

8 cashewnuts

2 medium sized onions, grated or puréed

3 medium sized tomatoes, puréed

1 tsp ginger paste

3/4 tsp garlic paste

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 1/4 tsp coriander powder

1 1/4 tsp garam masala powder

1 tsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)

3 tbsp thick yogurt + 1/4 tsp cornstarch, whisked together

salt to taste

2 tbsp chopped coriander to garnish



Method:


Soak the cashews in about 1/2 a cup of water for about half an hour. Drain the water and then grind the cashewnuts to a paste adding a bout a couple of tsps of water, as required. Keep aside.

If your paneer cubes looks wet, pat them dry. Then sprinkle all purpose flour over the paneer and toss so the paneer cubes are well coated. If you fry paneer as it is, it sometimes tends to get mushy and sticks to the pan. Coating it with flour ensures that paneer doesn't stick and get mushy when fried/ sautéed.

Heat the oil in a pan, and add the paneer cubes ensuring that each cube touches the oil in the bottom of the pan. Brown them to a deep golden colour, over medium heat. Toss frequently so the paneer browns uniformly with a somewhat crisp crust. When they're done, remove from the pan and put into the warm milk. Keep aside.
To the remaining oil in the pan, add the ginger and garlic pastes and sauté for a minute. Now add the puréed/ grated onion and sauté till the raw smell of the onions disappear. If the mixture appears to be drying out, add a tbsp of water whenever required.

Now add the puréed tomato and cook for a few minutes till it looks done. Add the turmeric and coriander powders and sauté for a couple of minutes. Then add the garam masala, sauté for another minute and add the paneer along with the milk in which it was soaked.

Mix well, gently, and add the salt. Also add the kasuri methi and 1/4 cup of water. Stir gently and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Now add the cashew paste and mix well, till no white streaks are visible. Your paneer masala should now have a rather thick sauce-like gravy.

Add the yogurt-cornstarch mixture and mix well, taking care to see that the paneer doesn't get broken. Cook for a minute. At this point, if you feel the gravy is too thick, add a couple of tbsps of water to adjust to required consistency.
Paneer butter masala should have a reasonably thick gravy which doesn't really flow.

Important: Make sure you add only 1/4 tsp cornstarch to the yogurt. The cornstarch is not to thicken the gravy but to ensure that the yogurt does not split/ curdle when added to the paneer masala.

Remove to a serving dish and garnish with chopped coriander. Serve warm with chappathis, naan or kulchas.
This recipe serves 4.




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June 13, 2009

Meringue Cookies


Isn't it odd how there are some foods we absolutely dislike when eaten (or cooked) one way, yet will tolerate (even enjoy) in another form? Let me explain. I cannot stand jackfruit. By the way, this is an odd statement coming from someone who belongs to the Indian state of Kerala.
Why? Well, I haven't so far met another Keralite who dislikes jackfruit, that's why! Anyone else out there, like me?
Raw jackfruit is used a lot in our traditional Palakkad cuisine and I don't like the fruit whichever way it is cooked. I also dislike the ripe fruit as much, yet I enjoy jackfruit chips (chakka varuval) and jackfruit jam (chakkavaratti).

Similarly I do not like raw plantain in any form in which it is cooked yet I love plantain/ banana chips (kaaya varuthathu). I love bananas but do not like ithe fruit in baked food.

With Akshaya it is eggs. She does not like eggs. Sure, she will tolerate them in cakes, cookies, pancakes and the like as long as she cannot smell or taste them. And she has a nose which is very sensitive to "egginess".

Yet she loves meringues. She loves them so much that I keep getting demands for them often. They are easy enough to make and only down side about making meringues in Goa, is that the humidity (which is always pretty high) gets to them in a few hours after they're baked making them sticky.
This is usually not a problem as I make small batches which get finished quickly, and Akshaya doesn't mind eating the slightly sticky ones that do get leftover, the next day.




One thing in the favour of meringues, if you don't mind eating eggs and are not worried about sugar, these are actually low carb and low fat. Of course, you need an electric mixer to beat these up into fluffy and stiff peaks. I wonder how they made meringues, before electricity.

This is the recipe I use to make meringues. I haven't changed anything in that recipe so I'm not reproducing it here. I have used it a couple of times before and it has always worked well.
I used to pipe the meringues out of a Ziploc bag earlier but I recently bought a set of decorating and pastry tips so I put fluted pastry tip to use this time.

I bake my meringues at 110C and they're usually done after about 1 1/2 hours. And another hour in the switched oven makes them perfect. Parchment paper is hard to come by here, so I always lightly grease my baking sheets.



Here are some very useful notes on working with egg whites (Source: American Egg Board) -

Before you start:
Remove eggs from refrigerator and let them come to room temperature. (A couple of hours will do, or if you are rushed for time, immerse them in warm water for 10 minutes.)

Make sure that all bowls, hands, and utensils that might touch the eggs are clean and free from oils.

To separate the eggs, crack them in half and gently move the yolk from one egg shell half to another, allowing the egg white to drip down into a clean container.

Choose a dry day. Humidity is a critical factor in making meringue. Because sugar is hygroscopic (moisture-absorbing), meringues made on a humid day can become limp and sticky.

Bowl size (and shape) matters. For proper aeration, a small mixer bowl is best for up to 3 egg whites; a large mixer bowl for 4 or more egg whites. When beaten, egg whites increase as much as 6 to 8 times in volume. The bowl should be large enough to hold the expanding whites, but not so large that the whites are spread too thin. The bowl should be deep enough for the beaters to make contact with as much of the whites as possible.

Keep the yolks separate from the whites. Fat from egg yolk will prevent egg whites from beating up properly. When separating eggs, take care that no yolk gets in the whites. To avoid an accident, separate each egg white into a cup or small bowl before transferring it to the mixer bowl. Discard any white that has even a speck of yolk in it.

Equipment: Beaters and bowl should be spotlessly clean. Any residue of fat will prevent egg whites from beating up properly. Use a stainless steel or glass bowl. Plastic bowls can retain a film of grease.

Egg temperature: It's easiest to separate eggs cleanly when they are refrigerator cold. However egg whites whip up to greater volume when they've had a chance to warm up a bit, 20 to 30 minutes. Always begin by separating the eggs. Let the whites stand at room temperature while you prepare the baking pan, equipment and other ingredients.

Cream of tartar: The air beaten into egg whites can be lost quite easily. A small amount of acidic ingredient, such as cream of tartar, acts as a stabilizing agent. A bit of lemon juice or vinegar will also work.

Salt decreases egg-white foam stability, so it is not used in meringues.

Add sugar gradually. For optimum volume and smoothest texture, sugar should be added gradually, beginning only after the whites have been beaten to the foamy stage (about double in volume). Adding some or all of the sugar before beginning to beat will result in less volume.

To check if sugar is dissolved: After each addition, whites should be beaten until the sugar has dissolved before adding more. To test, rub a bit of meringue between thumb and forefinger. If sugar is dissolved, it will feel completely smooth. If it feels grainy or sandy, continue beating. Undissolved sugar can cause sugar spots on the meringue surface.

What's a stiff peak? Hard meringue should be beaten until it appears glossy and stands in tall peaks that do not curl at the tips when the beater or whisk is lifted.

Sugars: Hard meringue is made with a ratio of 4 Tbsp. sugar per egg white. It can be made with any sugar. One cup of superfine sugar or packed brown sugar is equal to 1 cup of granulated sugar; 1-3/4 cups powdered sugar equals 1 cup granulated. Superfine sugar may dissolve more readily and produce a smoother glossier meringue, but volume will not be as great. Powdered sugar contains cornstarch, which may produce a drier meringue.

Mixers: Using an electric portable or stand mixer on high speed is easiest. Meringue can be beaten with rotary beater or balloon whisk, but requires more than average arm strength and endurance.

Shaping: Pipe meringue through a pastry bag for fanciful shapes or fluted edges, or simply spread and shape it with the back of a spoon or a spatula.

Prepare the surface. Baking sheets and pans, even those with nonstick surfaces, should be lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil or lightly greased and floured. Meringues are less likely to stick on lined equipment.

Baking is a misnomer. Hard meringues are not actually baked, but are dried in a 225°F (approx. 110°F) oven for 1 to 1-1/2 hours. They are left in the oven after it is turned off to continue drying without browning.

Chewier texture: If you prefer a chewy marshmallow-like center, reduce baking time. After 45 to 55 minutes, begin testing the texture by inserting a wooden pick into the side of the meringue. When baked to your liking, check with an instant read thermometer to see that the internal temperature has reached 160°F (approx. 70°C). Turn oven off and let meringue cool with the door closed.

Lightly browned: If you prefer meringues with some colour, increase the oven temperature to 250°F (approx. 120°C) and bake for 50 minutes or until meringues are delicately browned and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. When baked to your liking, check with an instant-read thermometer to see that the internal temperature has reached 160°F (approx. 70°C). Turn oven off and let meringue cool with the door closed.

To store: Place baked hard meringue in tightly sealed container, with waxed paper between layers. To re-crisp: If stored meringues lose their crispness, bake in 200°F (approx. 95°C) oven for 15 to 20 minutes.




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June 11, 2009

Methi Muthias (A Steamed Fenugreek Leaves and Chickpea Flour Snack)


Don't ask me why, but I find coming up with a snack for evening tea/ coffee the most challenging. That's the time when everyone is really hungry and whatever the accompaniment it has to go with coffee (for my husband), tea (for me) or milk (for our daughter)! It's also the time when I least want to be in the kitchen!!
As if this weren't enough, I would prefer the snack to be healthy/ nutritious and light (or appetite for dinner gets destroyed) while the most important criteria for everyone else is taste, naturally.

This combination is sometimes a bit difficult to achieve, in my opinion. Have you ever noticed how the tastiest food is invariably not very good for you?
So here is one of those snacks which fulfils all the three above-mentioned criteria and actually passed the "taste" test here at home.
Try this; it doesn't take all that time and effort to make. And who knows? You just might like it too.




Muthias are small spiced dumplings made from chickpea flour, wheat flour (and sometimes even millet flour) and mostly fenugreek leaves though sometimes other shredded vegetables like doodhi/ bottle gourd or even cabbage or carrots are used. These dumplings are either steamed or fried.
They can be served as an appetizer, snacks or side dishes to the main meal. Sometimes, they are also used as in ingredient in preparing other dishes.




Muthias are typically Gujarathi food, though I understand that they're eaten in certain parts of Rajasthan too. Like I mentioned before, these can be fried instead of being steam cooked, and I don't have to tell you that they would taste even better then.
Here's the recipe I used adapted from Vasantha Moorthy's The Complete Vegetable Cookbook.



Ingredients:


1 1/2 cups loosely packed chopped fenugreek leaves

1 cup chickpea flour (besan)

1 1/2 tbsp whole wheat flour

1 1/2 tsp cumin powder

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp yogurt

1 1/2 tsp finely minced ginger

1/2 tsp garlic paste

1 to 2 finley chopped green chillies

salt to taste


For tempering:

1 tbsp oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

a big pinch of asafetida

1 sprig curry leaves, chopped

For garnishing:

1 tbsp fresh grated coconut

1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves



Method:


Mix all the ingredients (except those for tempering and garnishing) together with a little water to make a smooth dough that is neither stiff nor very soft. The dough should be more on the softer side as this makes softer muthias.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Roll out each portion, using well-oiled hands, into sausage like strands about 3/4" in diameter.

Place the rolled out dough on a greased plate and steam cook till done. A thin knife, when inserted, should come out clean when the dough rolls are done.
Allow to cool slightly and then cut the rolls into 1/2" pieces. These are the "muthiyas". Arrange them on a serving dish.

For the tempering:

Heat the oil in a small pan. Add the mustard seeds and when they splutter, add the curry leaves and asafetida. Mix once and take of the heat immediately.

Pour onto the "muthiyas" and garnish with coriander leaves and coconut. Serve slightly warm, with green chutney or ketchup.
You may also serve this as a side dish with lunch. This should serve 3 to 4.

These muthiyas are my submission for Susan's MLLA whose 12th helping is being hosted by Apu of Annarasa.



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June 9, 2009

Chocolate Rainbow Polka Dot Cookies (a.k.a Smarties/ M&Ms/ Gems Cookies!)


That post title caught your attention, didn't it? At least, until you saw the accompanying picture and said to yourself, "Oh, those are just Smarties/ M&Ms/ Gems (depending on which part of the world you live in)." I just thought that "Rainbow Polka Dot Cookies" sounded so much more interesting than " Smarties/ M&Ms/ Gems Cookies" or maybe "Chocolate Button Cookies"!




Smarties/ M&Ms/ Gems are colourful sugar coated chocolate buttons. When we were kids, where we lived these were called Smarties. I still remember they were manufactured by a company called Rowntree & Mackintosh (later taken over by Nestlé) and came in cardboard tubes with plastic lids which had a letter of the alphabet on the underside. Every time we bought a packet of these, I would divide them equally (colourwise) into 4 portions, one each for my mother, father, sister and myself! Those were the days!!

M&Ms are the American version of these and have an "M" printed on them. We get supplies of these on and off, every time someone comes visiting us from the U.S.

In India, Cadbury (or Cadbudry, as Akshaya used to call all chocolate when she was about 3 years old) manufactures and sells these chocolate buttons as Gems. Akshaya still likes them and will occasionally reserve certain favourite colours for herself and share the rest!




To get back to the cookies in this post, I have made these "Polka Dot" cookies a couple of times before quite a while back. This post at Vanielje Kitchen prompted me to make some again, but with the addition of some oats and peanuts like she did.
I also used a combination of all purpose and whole wheat flours.

The result was cookies which were not too sweet, just the way we like them. Please increase the sugar from 2/3 cup to 1 cup, if you prefer sweeter cookies.



Chocolate Rainbow Polka Dot Cookies
(Adapted from too many sources to mention)


Ingredients:

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup rolled oats (or oat bran)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup oil

2/3 cup light brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup shelled and lightly roasted unsalted peanuts

1 to 1 1/2 cups Gems/ Smarties/ M&Ms



Method:

Chop the peanuts into smaller pieces, or run them in the mixer/ blender to break them. Do not make them into smaller crumbs or a powder. Keep aside.
Run the oats as well and grind into a coarse powder. Keep aside.

In a bowl, sift together the all purpose and whole wheat flours, salt and baking powder. Add the powdered oats and peanut pieces and mix well. Keep aside.
In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar till creamy. Add the oil and beat till well mixed. Now add the egg and vanilla extract and beat together till mixed. Add the dry ingredients from the other bowl and mix well, using a wooden spoon till well blended.

Divide into balls roughly the size of big walnuts/ small lemons and lightly flatten, placing them on a baking sheet leaving enough space between them. Press about 6 each of the Gems/ Smarties/ M&Ms on the top of each cookie. This may seem a lot, but the cookies will spread a bit while baking and will look okay.

Bake at 190C for between 12 and 15 minutes till the cookies start browning lightly around the edges. Remove from the oven and cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes. The cookies will be very soft and need these 5 minutes to harden. Remove and place on a rack to cool completely.

Serve or store in air-tight containers. This recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies depending on the size. I got 20 cookies which were approx. 2 3/4" in diameter each.




If you prefer, you can top the cookies with white or dark chocolate chips instead. They taste just as good. These cookies are a great after school snack for children and I know that many adults would also find it hard to resist them.
I'm not very fond of cookies, but even I thought they were pretty good.

I also found some very nice looking cookies of a similar kind at Delishfood, Café Fernando and Passionate About Baking.


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June 7, 2009

Aviyal (Mixed Vegetables in a Thick Spicy Coconut Sauce)


Aviyal is a spicy mixed vegetable preparation made with a spicy coconut paste, a souring agent and fresh coconut oil. This dish comes from the south Indian state of Kerala and no "sadya (traditional festive meal) is complete without it.
You will find aviyal, which is also very much a part of Palakkad Iyer cuisine and therefore a regular in my kitchen, featured on many food blogs featuring south Indian cuisine. My version has been sitting in my drafts for ages waiting to see the light of day. It took a request from a reader for me to remind me to post about it.



According to this source, aviyal was invented by Bheema (one of the five Pandava brothers) during their period of exile at the court of Virata. Bheema disguised himself as the palace cook, but was more proficient as a warrior than in the kitchen!
Since he didn't know much about cooking, he apparently chopped up a lot of different vegetables, cooked them and then added some coconut.
I personally have difficulty believing this version since aviyal is typical of Kerala which is a southern Indian state, whereas most of the Mahabharata seems to have unfolded towards the northern parts of India where aviyal is not a part of the cuisine.

A more believable source says that aviyal was first cooked in the royal kitchens of Travancore. Apparently, the head cook had to cook and serve a certain number of dishes. However, he discovered that he had run short of the necessary vegetables for a particular dish he had planned for. So in an inspired moment, he cut up small quantities of whatever vegetables he had on hand and cooked them up into an aviyal. This new vegetable creation became a favourite and the rest is history.



This version has the traditional/ "naadan" vegetables
I always thought aviyal was made the way it was made by my mother and grandmother, but over the years I have discovered there are variations apart from differences that arise from the vegetable combinations used.




This version has some "English" veggies too, like zucchini and potatoes!

Traditionally, a combination of different "naadan" (indigenous) vegetables like elephant yam (chenai), raw plantain (vazhaikkai), payar/ achingya (yard long beans, snake gourd (podavalangai), elavan/ kumbalanga (ash gourd/ winter melon), drumstick (murungakkai – a vegetable and not chicken!), jackfruit seeds (chakka kottai), etc are used. These are the vegetables are still used to make the authentic aviyal served at feasts.



This is an all "English" vegetable version except for the drumsticks

Many "English" vegetables (vegetables which not indigenous but common in our markets today) can also be used and are used these days, in homes (in mine definitely) to make aviyal. So you can make aviyal with green beans, carrot, potatoes, cabbage, green peas, etc. I have even used zucchini a couple of times in my aviyal!

In my home, the spicy coconut paste added to aviyal is made by grinding together freshly grated coconut, green chillies and cumin seeds. My husband's side of the family does not add cumin seeds while making aviyal.
In my side of the family, we use yogurt as the souring agent while making aviyal while my mother-in-law always used tamarind. Some people add raw mango pieces to the vegetables, instead of yogurt or tamarind.

Here I am posting the recipe I use while making aviyal. This version uses cumin seeds and yogurt. A mixture of about 4 to 5 different vegetables is optimum for a good aviyal, in my opinion.
Aviyal (Mixed Vegetables in a Thick Spicy Coconut Sauce)



Ingredients:


3 cups (approx.) mixed vegetables, cut into 1 1/2" long pieces

1 cup slightly sour thick yogurt

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 a small coconut, grated

1 tsp cumin seeds

2-3 green chillies (or according to taste)

salt to taste

2 tbsp coconut oil

2 sprigs curry leaves


Method:


Grind the coconut, cumin seeds and green chillies into a fine paste. Keep aside. Whisk the yogurt till smooth and keep aside.
Cut the vegetables into pieces about 1 1/2 inches in length (like we cut potatoes for finger chips). Cook the vegetables with turmeric powder and half a cup water till soft but firm. I cook my vegetables in the microwave (without turmeric powder) at 100% for about 8 minutes.

Then I put the vegetables into a pan with 1/8th cup of water, curry leaves, salt and turmeric powder. When this comes to a boil, add the coconut paste and mix well. Turn down the heat and add the yogurt. Mix well.

When the mixture just starts to bubble, take off the heat. The aviyal will have very little liquid in it and the coconut paste-yogurt mixture should be thickly coating the vegetables. Pour the coconut oil and stir. Cover.

Serve hot with rice, sambhar, pappads and pickle. This recipe should serve about 4-5 people.
You can find another version of aviyal made with raw papaya here.
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June 3, 2009

Nupur's "The Indian Vegetarian 100"


A few days back, I was talking to a journalist who was doing an article for the Hindustan Times about Indian food blogs. She asked me a couple of a couple of questions I couldn't really answer. Her questions were "What do you think brings people to your blog? Is it your recipes or the pictures on your blog?" I would like to believe it is the mix of recipes my blog offers, but I'm not sure.

My blog statistics show me that many people come to my blog through searches while some follow me regularly. Quite a few of my blog followers subscribe to my posts by e-mail and I know many follow me regularly because they leave comments at my posts.

So now I ask you all, "What is it that attracts you to my blog and posts?"
Is it the recipes, my style of writing and presenting recipes, or is it my pictures (maybe)? I would really like to know your opinion so please don't hesitate to tell me. Constructive criticism is always welcome.



Waiting for the monsoon

It's still quite hot here and we're waiting for the monsoons to stop threatening to arrive and actually keeps it's promise to reach us this week. I am in the middle of some cleaning and clearing up around the house and am a bit short on time this week. I should be back to posting regularly from next week.

So today's post is a non-recipe post but very much a food related post.
A couple of weeks back, The Indian Vegetarian 100 on Nupur's blog, One Hot Stove, caught my attention. I enjoyed going through her list and decided to do my version here. She requires us to:

  • Copy the entire list, along with these instructions, into your blog post
  • Bold the foods that you have tried
  • Strike out the foods you would never try
  • Tell us your score in the comments :)
  • If you wish to, make your own list or add to this one.

So here is Nupur's 100 with my scores! I have crossed out a few on the list as foods I will never eat agian, but that's not to say I will never have them. I might be starnded on an island with only these and I wouldn't have any choice but to eat them!!

1. Ripe mangoes

2. Curd rice

3. Chaat

4. Phulka

5. Puran poli

6. Boiled peanuts (not a particular favourite)

7. Samosa

8. Stuffed baby eggplants

9. Aviyal

10. Stuffed paratha

11. Masala chai

12. Tirphal

13. Murukku

14. Curry leaves

15. Banana chips fried in coconut oil

16. Jaggery

17. Vada pav

18. Tender coconut water

19. Paneer

20. Madras filter coffee

21. Boondi laddoo

22. Boondi raita

23. Navratan korma

24. Kokum

25. Masala peanuts

26. A home-cooked Indian vegetarian meal

27. Sugarcane juice

28. Sabudana/sago in any form

29. Horsegram

30. Maggi noodles

31. Podi with rice and ghee

32. Roomali roti

33. Bitter gourd

34. Nylon sev

35. Vegetable biryani

36. Thali at a restaurant

37. Plantain flower

38. Undhiyu

39. Nimbu pani

40. Papad

41. Kotthu parotta

42. Panch phoran

43. Drumsticks

44. Indian "French toast"

45. Sarson ka saag

46. Bhakri

47. Pav bhaji

48. Sitaphal

49. Glucose biscuits (I will not eat these if I have a choice)

50. Sprouts

51. Chole-bhature

52. Amla

53. Tomato "omelet"

54. A wedding feast

55. Grilled corn on the cob with lemon juice, salt and chilli powder

56. Cadbury's fruit and nut chocolate

57. Sai bhaji

58. Solkadi

59. Indian-Chinese meal

60. Jalebi

61. Black forest cake

62. Bharwa bhindi


63. Kashmiri saffron

64. Misal

65. Ripe jackfruit (not my favourite, always give it a miss)

66. Idli-chutney

67. 'Tadgola' (I don't know how I missed that this was "nongu"!)

68. Bhut jolokia

69. Baby mango pickle

70. Meal off a banana leaf

71. Falooda

72. Moong khichdi

73. Bebinca ( I really don't like bebinca)

74. Daal baati

75. Methi greens

76. Basundi

77. Gunpowder

78. Appam-stew

79. Sweet lemon pickle

80. Ridge gourd

81. Bisi bele bhath

82. Coconut burfi

83. Caramel custard

84. Thecha

85. Rasam

86. Baingan bharta

87. Mysore pak

88. Punjabi wadi

89. Chhunda

90. Dal makhani

91. Paper dosa

92. Gongura

93. Hand-churned butter

94. Pakoda

95. Curd chillies

96. Mustard oil (just can't get used to this)

97. Fresh cashews

98. Tomato pickle

99. Rajma-chawal

100. Chaas


My score : 95%  96%.

(Not bad, huh? It helped that a lot of Nupur's choices are part of my repertoire). I know what Kotthu Parotta (#41) is but have never had it. I didn't even know what Tadgola (#67), Bhut Jolokia (#68) and Thecha (#84) were! I have never tasted Punjabi wadi (#88).
Edited (4th June, 2009): I just realised from some of the comments that I actually seem to have missed that "Tadgola" is "Nongu" so I have definitely had this.

And I am adding my own list of 25 more vegetarian "must try at least once" Indian foods. And I quote Nupur here.
As she says, "It is a highly subjective and very eclectic list, featuring what I believe are some unique ingredients, restaurant classics and regional specialties. It demonstrates my biases, because many of my own favorites are in there to the exclusion of other dishes."

Yet I hope that you will find some of your favourites listed here and in time, perhaps, come to adopt some of these or try them out at least once whenever the opportunity presents itself.

1. Chakka varatti (jackfruit-jaggery jam)

2. Kappa (tapioca/ jassava) chips (the plain salted variety)


4. Pazham pori (Ripe plantain fritters)

5. Crisp and spongy Uzhundu Vadai (Black gram lentil fritters)

6. Parippu pradhaman (Lentil-jaggery-coconut milk kheer)


8. Gulab jamuns (preferably home-made)

9. Mishti doi (Bengali sweet yogurt)





15. Poruvalangai (Wheat lentil laddoos)

16. Kai murukku (Hand-made murukku)


18. Sevai/ Nool pittu (south Indian rice noodles)

19. Kulfi




23. Ellurundai (Til laddoos)

24. Molagai bhajji (Stuffed and batter fried chillies)

25. Chickoo/ Sapota (Sapodilla)


If you should choose to do this meme, remember to stick to Nupur's rules and have fun. You can find her original 100 on her blog, and there she has linked each of the 100 food items to a post or an image.


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