August 30, 2010

Eggless Chocolate Chip And Banana Squares


Back in Kerala, my home state, you will find bananas in most kitchens. In the old days, when everyone lived in single houses on a bit of land and not in apartments like today, you couldn’t find a home without its own coconut trees and banana plants. The coconut and the banana were intrinsic, and still are, to our way of life. Apart from the fruit, other parts of the trees were very much used. For a long time, it was considered a shame if one had to spend money on buying coconuts or bananas.

We use the fruit and even the inner stem of some varieties of banana for cooking. The banana leaf is used to wrap certain foods for steam cooking. Banana leaves are also our version of eco-friendly plates as we traditionally eat off them. Even today, our festive meals, including wedding feats are served on banana leaves.

Kerala grows an unbelievable variety of bananas and we use this fruit both raw and ripe. As a child I remember, that whenever someone dropped by for a casual visit, they were offered home grown bananas and steaming hot filter coffee. I remember a sweetness in those bananas which is rare in the fruit today.

I now live on the 2nd floor of an apartment complex, and while that does have some advantages, being able to grow my own bananas is not one of them. I do, however, have a vegetable seller who comes almost daily to my door and keeps me supplied with farm fresh vegetables and bananas whenever I need them.




Bananas are my favourite fruit, after mangoes but as I have mentioned many times before, I don’t like bananas in bakes. Don’t ask me why, I just don’t.
It is also the reason I have been avoiding baking anything with banana in it. Perhaps I haven’t been fair here, because I know my husband would like it if I did bake with banana.
It was the fact that I had some seriously over ripe bananas that made me take the plunge. The bananas were good, no one wanted to eat “black” bananas and there was no way I was going to throw them out.




Bananas also happen to be a good substitute for eggs, so for me, that meant that this was going to be one more eggless bake. So I cobbled together this recipe for banana squares with chocolate chips and cardamom.
If you haven’t tried the combination of banana, chocolate and cardamom as yet, let me assure that it’s a winner. Of course, I might be biased as I love cardamom.

I have made these squares many times since, and except for that first time, it hasn’t been because I needed to use up bananas. In fact, I’ll admit I have even bought bananas a couple of times just to make these banana squares!
That’s how good they are. My husband is happy and our daughter who is not usually very fond of fruit in bakes pronounced them “quite nice”.



Eggless Chocolate Chip And Banana Squares



Ingredients:


75gm butter, softened at room temperature

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 large banana, mashed/ puréed (about 1/2 cup)*

2 to 3 tbsps milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 to 3 pods cardamom, powdered (optional)

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips



Method:


* I prefer to purée the banana pieces with the milk in my blender, as it is smoother than mashed banana. I also add the vanilla extract and cardamom while puréeing. If you prefer to mash your banana, you can add the milk while mashing it.

Put the softened butter and brown sugar in a bowl and beat, using a hand held mixer, till fluffy and creamy. Add the mashed/ puréed banana and beat on medium speed till smooth.

Sift the flour,baking powder and salt into the bowl, and beat again (on medium speed) till the flour is incorporated into the batter.
Fold in the chocolate chips.

Scrape the batter out into a greased and floured square cake tin (7” by 7”) and bake at 180C (350F) till done, and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool in the tin for about 5 minutes and then unmould the cake. Cool completely on a rack and cut into squares.

This recipe makes 9 big or 16 smaller chocolate chip and banana squares.

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August 27, 2010

Not Baked Alaska Or Petite Fours, Just Another Ice-cream Cake! Daring Baker Challenge August, 2010


I almost didn’t get this month’s Daring Bakers challenge done. I just about managed to finish doing the assembling and decorating yesterday, which is not the way I like to do my challenges!

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alasa or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

Normally, I try to get my DB challenges done by the middle of the month, but this time I planned to do it for my husband’s birthday on the 24th of this month. As it turned out, the 23rd and the 24th were also traditional religious/ festive events in our community, which I forgot to factor into my DB challenge plans.
To this add out of town visitors, nagging toothache due a fractured filling, and a sudden unexplained eye allergy which meant a badly swollen left eye leaving me looking like a rather badly finished alien face!
And on the DB front, I had 2 days to do the challenge, make it look presentable, shoot pictures and write up a post, if I wanted to meet the deadline of 27th August.




Meet the deadline, I did, but in my own fashion. I kept to the spirit of the challenge and browned my own butter, made the pound cake but used store bought ice-cream.
Elissa wanted us to make one or two of the alternatives, the Baked Alaska or/ and Petit Fours. You can find the recipe and other details of the challenge on her blog.

The thought of half-cooked meringue required for the Baked Alaska wasn’t particularly attractive, bringing back memories of the Lemon Meringue Pie which was my maiden DB challenge (just a personal thing). I wasn’t keen on the ice-cream petit fours either as I prefer them the traditional way, so I decided to make a cross between the two.
I’m not sure what to call my creation, as it isn’t a Baked Alaska and it definitely not petite, though it is small. I think mini ice-cream cake would probably be more apt, but then as Shakespeare once asked, “What’s in a name?”

Now that I am growing older, I find it sensible and practical to subscribe to the thought that all good things, especially desserts, come in small packages. So I halved the pound cake recipe and used only 1 egg (instead of 2). I baked the cake in a 9” cake tin as a thin layer since I wanted to cut out circles for the base of my dessert.

I then cut out small 2 1/2” circles of pound cake and topped it with eggless fresh anjir/ fig ice-cream (store bought Amul ice-cream, whose ice-creams are all eggless and one of the best I’ve eaten). I did make my ice-cream for the previous challenge, and didn’t have the time this month.
I had previously set the ice-cream in my small cupcake moulds to shape them.




So far everything was more or less like I wanted it to be. I did have a bit of trouble unmoulding the ice-cream quickly before it melted into a puddle, but I managed without things becoming disastrous.

I used a half recipe of the ganache and wanted to pour it over my ice-cream and cake mounds instead of the meringue but somewhat like the petit fours. For some unfathomable reason (I’m sure there’s some chemistry at work here that’s beyond me for now) the ganache would not stay put over the ice-cream!

The ganache was cool enough, so that wasn’t the problem. I would spoon it over the ice-cream and it would just slide off bringing a little of the ice-cream with it and pool at the bottom. Frustrating was not word enough to describe what I was feeling!!
I had about half a day to complete the challenge and serve my husband what was supposed to have been a birthday dessert!




After some thought, I stuck my ice-cream and cake in the freezer and decided to let the ganache thicken a bit. Then, using a palette knife, I covered the mini ice-cream cakes with ganache. This worked.

All that was left was to decorate my little cakes. I used melted milk chocolate and piped some designs. The first time, the piped melted chocolate came out of the bag in messy squirts and squiggles leaving behind a mess. I spent quite some time scraping off the stuff, and then covering up the patches with more ganache.
So now you’re privy to the secret behind my not so perfectly finished mini cakes.


Verdict:


I’m really happy that browned butter, which we better know as “ghee” in India, is getting due recognition. Actually, ghee is clarified butter (browned butter minus the solids). In ghee, the solids from browned butter are removed to increase its shelf life.
In India, if a sweet dish requires some amount of fat, it has to be ghee. Ghee is also used in smaller amounts in many savoury preparations.

The browned butter did lend its characteristic nutty and rich flavour to the pound cake, which was unusual but interesting. I didn’t find any noticeable difference from reducing the egg by one in my halved pound cake recipe.

We quite liked this cake though our daughter thought there was something “odd” about it, till I let on about the browned butter.
Throw browned butter into a combination of cake, ice-cream and chocolate ganache, and there’s very little about it to not like. My husband thought it was “quite nice”.

I found that my version freezes pretty well, so it’s a good dessert to make ahead. Just take it out of the freezer and keep it in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving. This softens the ice-cream (and cake) while the ganache prevents the ice-cream from melting out, which is perfect as far as textures in this dessert go.




If you have been wondering what I did with the scraps after cutting out my circles (I got seven 2 1/2" circles) from the pound cake, I crumbled some and made a similar dessert in a glass. I topped the cake crumbs with sliced bananas, some ice-cream and then melted milk chocolate and some cashewnuts.


Please visit the other Daring Bakers to see how this month’s challenge should really have been done. I hope Elissa will forgive my slight departure from the trodden path.


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August 24, 2010

Eggless Vegetable-Nut Loaf With A Sweet And Spicy Mango Jalapeño Sauce


This vegetable loaf came about as the result of the challenge that we, the 4 Velveteers, set for ourselves this month. One thing I really enjoy about being in this group is the sheer variety of challenges, which really make us go beyond our comfort zones and explore possibilities we probably wouldn’t otherwise. I also like the creative freedom that allows each one of us works on one theme but interprets the challenge in our own unique way with a recipe of our choice.

This month’s challenge, Asha's choice, was to create a savoury dish in which fruits (fresh or dried) played a defining role in terms of providing flavour to the overall dish. No fruit salads allowed!




In my traditional style of cooking fruit, especially mangoes and ripe plantains and to a lesser extent pineapple and grapes, are regularly used in savoury dishes. I thought I would look outside India, however, for this challenge as it would mean cooking something I hadn’t tried before.

Searching out fruit in savoury dishes type of combinations, I realized that most western style cooking involved fruit based sauces which were served with meat or poultry. Then I came across a vegetarian recipe which seemed to hold some promise. I have wanted to make a vegetable loaf for sometime now and the time had finally arrived.

Now, I’m not sure where this month has gone exactly. Apart from routine everyday happenings, I have a lot more happening keeping me busy that I haven’t found the time to do this challenge till now. I’m also 2 days beyond the deadline! But, I do believe that it is better to be a bit late than never, so here I am.




This vegetable loaf is savoury and sweet notes are provided by dried apricots (and raisins if you will consider them as fruit) in the loaf and fresh mango and mango chutney in the the accompanying sauce.

The recipe I chose contained eggs which I wanted to avoid. I halved that recipe, substituted the eggs with bread and chickpea flour (besan) and added a little more vegetables. I made some changes to adjust for availability of ingredients and taste. I added a bit more spice, as I found the original a bit bland for our tastes.
If you would like to try this loaf, I would suggest taking a look at the original recipe as you might find that more suited to your taste.

While we found the loaf quite moist and tasty even though it looks a bit dry on the top. This because I did not pour some sauce on the loaf halfway through baking, as I didn’t want my savoury loaf to be too sweet.

I think it might have tasted better if I had baked them better as cutlets/ patties as these would have been crisper than the loaf. This is not a reflection on the vegetable loaf, but just our personal preference.
So you could choose to bake the loaf for brunch or as cutlets for a snack.




To serve with the vegetable loaf, I used readymade jalapeño jam and mango chutney with fresh mango to make a sweet, salty and quite spicy chutney-like thick sauce. If you prefer, you may serve it with another sauce/ chutney of your choice.



Eggless Vegetable And Nut Loaf
(Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)


Ingredients:


3/4 cup dry red lentils (masoor dal)

1 medium carrot, grated (approx. 1/4 cup)

6 to 8 green beans, finely sliced (approx. 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup cabbage, finely shredded

1/3 cup snipped dried apricots

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 medium onion, chopped

2 to 3 tbsp chopped coriander

1 tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp garlic paste

1 tbsp oil

red chilli flakes (to taste)

3 slices (small) day old bread

2 tbsp chickpea flour (besan)

3/4 cup cooked brown rice

1 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup toasted and chopped walnuts

salt to taste



Method:


Cook the red lentils in water till done. You can do this by adding the lentils to 1 1/2 cups water and bringing this to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium, cover and cook for about 10 minutes till done. Drain the water and keep aside.
Otherwise pressure cook the lentils with 1 cup water till done, like I did.

Tear up the bread slices into large chunks and run in the blender till they become crumbs (flakes). Keep aside.

Heat the oil in a pan, and sauté the onions and garlic paste till the onions become soft. Add the apricots, raisins, carrots, beans and cabbage and stir fry till cooked and tender. Add the garam masala and salt (to taste, as more salt has to be added later) and cook for a minute and take the pan off the heat.

In a large bowl, put the cooked mixture, crumbed bread, chickpea flour, the cooked rice, cooked lentils, baking powder, chilli flakes, walnuts, salt (as required) and chopped coriander. Using your fingers, mix everything together well.

Press the mixture into a small greased loaf tin. Bake at 180C (350F) for about 30 to 40 minutes till done.
Take the loaf out and allow it to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Remove from the tin and cool until still slightly warm. Slice with a sharp serrated knife and serve with a sweet and spicy chutney (recipe below) or ketchup, if you prefer.
This recipe serves 4.



Sweet And Spicy Mango Jalapeño Sauce
(Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)


Ingredients:


1/4 cup sweet and spicy mango chutney

1/4 cup jalapeño jam

2 to 3 tbsp water

1/4 cup chopped fresh mango



Method:


In a saucepan, mix the mango chutney, the jalapeño jam and the water and cook it over medium heat. Keep mixing it well so that it becomes a smooth sauce. Add the mango pieces and cook for a couple of minutes more, then take it off the heat.

Once it cools, it will thicken a little so add enough water so that when slightly warm, you have a thick chutney-like sauce of pouring consistency.


The four of us (Alessio, Asha, Pamela and I) go velveteering, as we like to call our kitchen adventures, with a new dish/ style of cooking/ cuisine every month. Each of us will share our recipes, experiences and verdicts on our blogs.
If you would like to join us, please leave a comment at this post or send me a mail and we’ll get back to you.

This month Madhuli, also a food blogger, joining us. I will be linking up to the others as and when they publish their posts.


This month’s Velveteer recipes:

Alessio: Crostini With Spiced Pork Patty, Celery Cream And Yellow Peach

Asha : Pears And Ribs

Pamela: Green Papaya Curry

Madhuli: Raw Banana Cutlets With Mixed Fruit Chutney

Ken: Skillet Roasted Sweet n Sour Pork


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August 20, 2010

Rava Kesari (Indian Semolina And Saffron Halwa or Pudding)


Rava Kesari is an Indian sweet which is very easy to prepare and is generally celebratory fare, whether served as prasadham (blessed food offerings) for minor ritual pujas or at grander affairs. For Palakkad Iyer weddings, rava kesari is always served as the sweet dish for wedding breakfasts.
This sweet is also made as “naivedhyam” (ritualistic offering of food to God before partaking of it) for Satyanarayana puja, in particular, except it is made without the saffron.

In south Indian homes, this sweet is also made on non-festive days as an ordinary everyday kind of sweet dish as well, as the ingredients are all commonly available in most kitchens.
Rava kesari is a soft halwa or pudding made from semolina (rava), milk (or water) and lots of ghee. It is traditionally served slightly warm, but tastes equally good chilled. When served warm, the kesari has a soft, almost melt in the mouth texture though it becomes slightly more solid and sets a bit if refrigerated.




Kesar or saffron, which gives the kesari its name, is added to this pudding to give it a lovely flavour and beautiful golden orange hue. Since saffron is very expensive and wasn’t easily available in the olden days, many people used to, and still do, add an orange powdered colouring for the same effect.

In our homes, I have seen rava kesari made without the saffron. This version, cream coloured from the semolina, also tastes as good because most of the flavour of this sweet preparation comes from the ghee and the cardamom in it.
Rava kesari is also known as Kesari Bhath, Sooji Halwa, Sojji, Sajjige, Sheera in different parts of India.
Please note, as pointed out by a reader in the commnets following this post, that sajjige contains banana unlike this kesari which doesn't contain any fruit other than raisins.

In my opinion, the perfect rava kesari should be soft in texture yet hold its shape, should be just so that it softens further and almost melts in your mouth before you swallow it, and be fragrant with ghee without drowning in it.




While unbelievably simple to make, it is funny how very few people can actually make this kesari very well. I have come across very few people who do, and its quite possible that I have been keeping company with the wrong sort where it comes to making kesari. Most of the time, I have found the kesari to be dry and solid enough to be sliced, which is not good. Else it is so greasy that it leaves your fingers heavily coated with ghee!
Oh yes, the best way to eat kesari (and most Indian food) is with your fingers and definitely not with a cold metal spoon.

Since kesari is traditionally made with a lot of ghee, it is not a sweet one can eat in large quantities and a few tablespoons can be filling. This is possibly why it is not served as dessert but as a sweet preparation in smaller quantities along with a meal.

Many years ago, this day was the start of a new chapter in our lives. Today’s anniversary isn’t quite the celebration we would have liked it to be, as my husband is away on work. So we will postpone celebrating it when he gets back this weekend.
In the meanwhile, I just couldn’t let this day pass without marking it in some way. After a lot of thought I decided on this semolina pudding since it’s a favourite here but been a while since I last made it.




A little while back, Asha celebrated her blog birthday and the wishes I sent her won me a little hamper of some Iranian saffron and saffron salt. As it happens, this gift was very apt since my stash of saffron had just got over. I still haven’t figured out what to do with the salt, and would welcome suggestions. As for the saffron, I can think of a hundred ways to use it including this rava kesari.

As with most traditional recipes, each household has its own way of making it, though the main ingredients remain the same. Here is my way of making it. Many people do not add milk to this sweet, but I prefer to as I feel the milk adds to the taste and rich feel allowing me to cut down on the ghee that I use.
One secret to a good kesari is to add enough liquid (but not too much) to ensure that the rava (semolina) cooks very well before adding the sugar. The other thing is not to skimp on the ghee. One can be careful with the amount of ghee that goes into this sweet, but too little of it will result in a dry and somewhat pasty texture which is not desirable.



Rava Kesari (Indian Semolina And Saffron Halwa or Pudding)



Ingredients:


1 cup rava (semolina)

1 cup granulated sugar

(use 1/4 to 1/2 cup more if more sweetness is preferred)

a few strands of saffron

1 1/2 cups milk, warm

1 1/2 cups water

4 to 5 tbsp ghee

2 tbsp broken cashewnuts

2 tbsp golden raisins

3 to 4 pods cardamom, powdered



Method:


Put the saffron strands in the warm milk and keep aside for about 20 to 30 minutes to bring out the flavour and colour.

Heat about 1 tbsp of ghee in a heavy bottomed or nonstick pan. Add the rava (semolina and sauté, over medium heat, till it starts turning pinkish/ golden brown and giving off an aroma. Do not brown the semolina even slightly. Empty it onto a plate and keep aside.

Put another 1/2 tbsp of ghee in the pan and fry the raisins in it till they turn whitish/ golden brown and puff up. Remove them and keep aside. To the same little bit of residual ghee, add the broken cashewnuts and fry till golden brown. Remove them and add to the raisins.

Into the same pan, pour the milk with the saffron threads in it and water and bring the whole thing to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium and add the rava (semolina) while stirring constantly to ensure there are no lumps.

Keep stirring, frequently, and cook till the rava (semolina) absorbs all the liquid and is cooked well. It will start bunching up in to a ball when stirred and look soft and slightly puffy. Ensure it is well cooked, as once the sugar is added the kesari (pudding) will not soften anymore.

Add the sugar and mix well. The sugar will melt causing the kesari (pudding) to loosen up a bit. Cook for about 5 minutes , stirring occasionally, making sure the kesari does not get stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Now add the remaining ghee and cook till the ghee gets absorbed and the kesari looks shiny and starts coming away from the sides of the pan to the middle. This should take another 5 to 10 minutes.

Finally add the powdered cardmom, the fried raisins and cashewnuts. Mix well and serve warm. Else refrigerate the kesari and serve cold, or warm slightly once again before serving. This will keep for about 2 to 3 days refrigerated.
This recipe serves 4 to 6 people.

I also wanted to mention that rava kesari is traditionally served in an “as is” condition, that is, as it comes out of the pan, like my picture of the kesari in the bowl. It is only to make it look a little prettier for my photographs that I pressed it into a mould.
It can also be pressed into a greased rectangular pan, refrigerated and then cut into soft fudge-like squares.


This rava kesari is also my submission to this month’s Sugar High Friday which is being hosted by Elissa with the theme “browned butter”.
Browned butter is very much a part of cooking in India, especially in our sweets and we know it better by the name “ghee”.


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August 15, 2010

Celebrating Freedom: Tricoloured Spiced Rice (Tirange Chawal)


Sixty three years ago Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”.
Happy Independence Day to all of you who are celebrating it, like me.

So, today we celebrate our 64th Independence Day. I was born after Independence and never experienced the struggle, but know of it from those who saw it or felt it in some measure. While it takes a lack of freedom to truly appreciate it, it only needs one to realise how much of our world is still not free to be thankful for what we do have.

Like I did last year, I thought I would add to the Independence Day celebrations with colours of the Indian flag and freedom. I decided to go savoury this time. Since we usually have rice for lunch, this meant rice in the hues of saffron, white and green.




This particular rice preparation is inspired by one of my good friends. Her husband and mine were friends long before I got married, so this is a friendship of very long standing. One of the dinners we had at their place (this particular one was 14 years back!) was on Independence Day and my friend had made a rice dish in the colours of the Indian flag. She had served the rice as a single dish from which we all helped ourselves.




I made today’s lunch as single serves as I thought it would be nice for each one of us to get their own little neatly coloured and layered mound of rice. This means a little more work, but as this dish doesn’t really need much effort to cook up, that was alright with me.
Feel free to choose how you would like to present and serve this rice. It really does not matter as it tastes good whichever way.




One of the few things I do not make at home is sambhar powder. For a long time, after I got married, my mother used to send me this in bulk. Later I got her recipe for it, but no matter how strictly I followed the recipe, I could never get the same taste so I gave up trying.

I usually make sambhar making the spice paste from scratch. On the rare occasions I do need to use sambhar powder, I use a store bought brand which is a lot like the one my mothe rused to make.
There are a lot of store bought sambhar powders which contain a lot of ingredients that a sambhar would traditionally not use, so beware.
If you should want to make your own sambhar powder, here is a recipe which is a bit like what we usually make in our homes.



Tricoloured Spiced Rice (Tirange Chawal)


Ingredients:


For the saffron/ orange coloured rice:


1 cup basmati rice (and 1/2 tsp oil to fry the rice)

salt to taste

1 1/2 tsp oil

3 big carrots, steam cooked

2 tomatoes, chopped

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp sambhar powder


For the white coloured rice:


1 cup basmati rice (and 1/2 tsp oil to fry the rice)

salt to taste

1 cup thick coconut milk

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, lightly roasted/ toasted


For the green coloured rice:


1 cup basmati rice (and 1/2 tsp oil to fry the rice)

salt to taste

2 onions, chopped

1 tsp garlic paste

1 tsp ginger paste

2 tbsp freshly scraped coconut

8 to 10 mint leaves

about 1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves

1 or 2 green chillies

1 1/2 tsp white poppy seeds (khus khus)

1 1/2 tsp oil

1 tsp garam masala



Method:


I cooked my rice in a pressure cooker, one cup of rice in each container, in three separate containers at the same time. You may cook the rice according to your method of preference.
It is better to keep the 3 cups of rice separate while cooking, as it will ensure equal quantities of the different coloured rice varieties.

In a pan, put the 1/2 tsp oil and stir-fry 1 cup of rice on medium heat for about a minute just till the rice starts turning whiter. Take it off the heat and put it into the container in which it is to be cooked.
Repeat this with the other two cups of rice.
Now it is time to cook the rice. You would have three containers with 1 cup stir-fried rice in each.
To the first container, add 2 cups of water and about 1 tsp of salt, or to your taste and stir well. Do the same to the next container of rice.
To the third container, add the salt, cumin seeds, 1 cup of water and the coconut milk and mix well. This will be the white coloured rice. Of course, the cumin seeds will give the rice a slightly off-white tinge.
Place the 3 containers in the pressure cooker and cook till just done. The grains should be whole and separate.

When it is done, take the rice out and spread the each container of rice on a separate plate. Use a fork to fluff up the rice a bit, to ensure that the grains separate without breaking. Allow the rice to cool a bit. If the rice cools completely, it will be difficult to layer, mould it and have it keep its shape.

While the rice is cooking make the spice pastes to colour and flavour the rice.
The white coloured coconut milk rice is done and needs no further cooking.

To make the saffron/ orange coloured rice, start by puréeing the cooked carrot and tomatoes till smooth. Heat the 1 1/2 tsp oil in a pan and add the turmeric powder and the sambhar powder and stir a couple of times. Add the carrot-tomato purée and cook for a couple of minutes till done.
Pour this cooked paste on one plate of still warm rice and using the fork, mix till the rice is uniformly orange in colour. Take care to see the rice doesn’t get broken and mushy.

To make the green coloured rice, Put the chopped onions, garlic paste, ginger paste, coconut, mint leaves, chopped coriander leaves, green chillies and the poppy seeds in a blender and purée till smooth.
Heat the oil in a pan, add the garam masala and stir a couple of times and then add the green paste. Cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes till the raw smell disappears.
Pour this cooked paste on one plate of still warm rice and using the fork, mix till the rice is uniformly orange in colour. Take care to see the rice doesn’t get broken and mushy.

You can now layer the three different coloured rices together. If you are layering it in a large dish, grease the dish first. Then remember to put the orange rice at the bottom, then the white rice and lastly the green rice.

Press each layer down well before adding the next. Cover the dish with your serving plate, and slowly invert the dish onto it. Tap the dish gently and the rice should turn out onto the plate, orange layer on top.

If you are making single serves, grease your ring mould and then place on the serving plate. Starting with the green coloured rice, firmly pack equal amounts of the three different coloured rice one after the other into the ring mould.
Using the back of a spoon, slowly press down the rice while lifting the ring mould off the plate. Repeat for as many servings as required.

This recipe should serve 8 to 10 depending on serving size. Serve the rice with plain yogurt or raita or a mango salsa, Indian style pickles, and pappads or potato crisps.


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August 13, 2010

Bean There, Done That - Healthy And Eggless White Bean Brownies!


No, the “bean” in my post title isn’t a spelling mistake. Yes, I actually made chocolate brownies with white beans! I am thinking that most of you will be going “yuck” at the thought of beans in a brownie. I know I did when I first came across it but please give this brownie a chance. I wouldn’t have posted about it if it had been a total loss.

I don’t really have much of a sweet tooth though I do have a liking for certain sweets and desserts. Brownies are definitely a weakness with me and it is quite possible I love them because they contain chocolate, as blondies do not have the same attraction for me.
I like brownies that are cake-like in texture a bit more than the fudgy variety though I am not too fussy as long it tastes good and chocolaty like a brownie should.

On the flip side, most brownies bring with them an awful lot of fat and calories which we don’t need. So I usually make brownies with cocoa powder and tell myself that I can afford to occasionally indulge in these as the cocoa make it easier to deal with the guilt.




Sometime back, I came across a brownie someone had baked using black beans. While that caught my attention I wasn’t too sure I wanted to be chewing beans in my brownies which would have been better showcased in a soup, curry or some such dish.
I am almost always a sucker for recipes which feature ingredients in an unusual manner.

While looking up brownies made with beans, I came across a study that concluded that pureed cannellini beans can replace as much as 50% of the fat (by weight) in brownies, while yielding an acceptable and more nutritious product.

This one bit of information swung it for me, and I had to try putting beans in my brownie. I came across an eggless bean brownie at The Mad Chemist which looked promising. This particular recipe is also very low in fat as there is no added fat in this recipe except the little that comes from the yogurt, walnuts and chocolate chips.
Yes, this brownie is made without either butter or oil.




I adapted that recipe slightly making changes which I thought would give me a less fudgy (I mean less wet/ moist and more cake-like) brownie as I was a little apprehensive about ending up with a mouthful of mushy beans in the guise of a brownie! I also spiced it up a bit with some chai masala.

I have never seen black beans here, so I used the white beans I had on hand. I soaked the beans overnight, rinsed the beans and pressure cooked them till soft and done. I then measured out 1 1/4 cups of the cooked beans and puréed them.

So how does this bean brownie compare with a regular brownie?
I personally think that after substituting for essential ingredients which make a particular food what it is, expecting the adapted version to taste like the original, is asking for too much.



So while this is not quite your regular kind of brownie, it still is pretty good. It is a bit cake-like in texture and yet fudgy too. No one would know you put beans in it, unless you told them so as you cannot taste the beans in it at all.

These brownies will not replace my regular brownies, but I am definitely going to be making these again. We all liked them though my daughter didn’t think much of them, but then she doesn’t like brownies much. She was rather surprised to hear these brownies had beans in them after she got all three guesses wrong to “Guess what’s in these brownies?”

If you are looking for a very low fat brownies (with a healthy dose of protein) then these brownies are worth trying out. While this recipe does not use eggs, if you would like to add an egg to it, I’m sure the texture of these brownies would be more like those of regular brownies.
I would be happy to hear from any of you, if you try this out.



Eggless And Healthy White Bean Brownies
(adapted from The Mad Chemist)


Ingredients:


3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/3 cup dark cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup dark brown sugar*

1 tsp chai masala (optional)

1 1/4 cup cooked white beans

3/4 cup puréed apple** (or unsweetened applesauce)

1/4 cup yogurt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips



Method:


* These brownies are really not very sweet, so if you would prefer a slightly sweeter version please use 3/4 cup sugar instead of the 1/2 cup mentioned above.

** I don’t usually have applesauce on hand. I cored and then chopped one Fuji apple (with skin) and puréed it in my blender. I put the purée in a strainer and let the juice drain out for about 15 minutes and then used the drained purée to make the brownies.

Using a blender, purée the cook beans till smooth.
Put the puréed beans, whole wheat flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar and chai masala in a large and deep bowl. Beat this together, using a hand held mixer, till well blended while scraping down the sides of the bowl a couple of times.

Add the puréed apple (or applesauce), yogurt and vanilla extract and beat again, on medium speed till the batter is well mixed and smooth.
Fold in the walnuts and half the chocolate chips.

Scrape the batter out into a greased and parchment paper lined square cake tin. I used a 7" by 7" tin but an 8" by 8" tin would be better as the brownies would be thinner and cook better.

Smoothen the top and sprinkle the remaining half of chocolate chips on top. Bake at 190C (375F) for 20 to 30 minutes till done.
Allow to cool completely, at room temperature before unmoulding and cutting into squares, or the brownies will be "squishy".

This recipe makes 16 brownies. Serve as they are, with custard sauce, or low fat, eggless ice-cream or ice-cream of your choice.
If not serving immediately, place in a lidded box and refrigerate. I found these brownies tasted better the next day.

Simona is hosting the 26th edition of My Legume Love Affair at Briciole and my “full of beans” brownies are off there.


On an aside, this month Srivalli is hosting Tried & Tasted, a monthly event that showcases food blogs. I am honoured (and very happy) that she has chosen my rather diverse kitchen to be the featured blog for this month.

This means that should you decide to participate in Tried & Tasted, you would be trying out one (or more) of the recipes on this blog. For further details please click on the above link.

I will be more than happy to answer any questions regarding my recipes should you have any. I’m really looking forward to seeing which of my recipes are going to be tried and tasted.



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August 9, 2010

Vendakkai Vathakkinathu (Indian Style Stir-fried Okra)


There are many dishes in our traditional Palakkad Iyer cuisine which require some time and effort to make, but most of the dishes which feature in our everyday cooking do not require much time to put together.
These dishes usually also require a minimal use of spices allowing the flavour and taste of the fresh vegetables to really come through.

Today’s post features one such dish. As the name suggests, Vendakkai (meaning okra) Vadakkinathu (meaning stir-fried) is stir-fried salted and lightly spiced okra. In India, okra is more commonly known as ladiesfinger, probably because of its long, slim and pointed shape.

Okra never used to be one of my favourite vegetables because the first came to mind when one thought of it was “slime”! Somehow, it also seemed that the short and very dark green variety of okra we used to get in Africa in those days seemed to have more than its fair share of that awful stuff.
The lighter green variety of okra that is locally available here is not as slimy and, in my opinion, much tastier. Of course, this variety is seasonal and what we get throughout the year is a darker coloured variety of okra which isn’t as bad as the ones which feature in my childhood memories.

Indian cooking, on the whole, ensures, that the slime of okra is taken care of and doesn’t appear in whatever dish it gets cooked. This is done by using certain acidic/ souring ingredients like tamarind, tomato, lime juice or yogurt/ buttermilk.

I accidentally discovered that cutting the okra and leaving it uncovered at room temperature, for about half an hour or so, and then cooking it also ensures that the slime disappears like magic.




Okra is still not a vegetable I would pick over others, but I have grown to like it in dishes where some sort of stir-frying it is involved. This particular okra dish is my favourite way of cooking the vegetable.
Here, the slime cooks away leaving the okra well cooked, a bit soft and showing the beginnings of crispness from stir-frying. Add the taste of caramelized onions to this mix and the result is delicious.

The really traditional way of cooking okra in this recipe would be without the onions. We quite like the taste that the caramelized onion lends to this preparation, so I tend to use them most times I cook this stir-fry.

I have had this post in my drafts for a while, but it took a tweet from a foodie friend asking for suggestions to cook okra to remind me that it was about time I published it.



Vendakkai Vathakkinathu (Indian Style Stir-fried Okra)


Ingredients:


1/2 kg okra

3 big onions, chopped

1 1/2 tbsp oil (coconut oil, if you like)

2 tsp mustard seeds

1 1/2 tbsp black gram lentils (urad dal)

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp red chilli powder (adjust to taste)

salt to taste

a sprig of curry leaves



Method:


Wash and dry the okra well, then trim both ends. Slice the okra into pieces, about 1/2 cm thick. Keep the sliced okra aside, spread on a plate and uncovered, for about half an hour.

In a wok, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the lentils and sauté till they turn golden brown. Add the onions and curry leaves and sauté, over medium heat, till the onions turn soft and golden in colour.

Add the okra, turmeric and chilli powders and salt and stir everything so the okra is uniformly coated with the salt and spice. Stir fry, stirring constantly, on high heat for a couple of minutes. Then turn down the heat to low and allow the okra to cook till done and slightly crisp and beginning to turn brown in places.
Stir the okra occasionally while it cooks, but make sure it doesn’t break up and retains its shape.

Serve hot as a side dish along with rice and lentils, or chappathis. This recipe serves 3 to 4.


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August 5, 2010

Paneer (Ricotta) Pound Cake


Despite the number of cakes there are on my blog, I’m not really very fond of cakes. They’re eaten mostly by my family and friends who are always ready to eat cake. I avoid frosted cakes as I do not like buttercream, and though I love chocolate, I’m not overly fond of chocolate cakes. If I must eat cake, then I prefer plain vanilla or lightly citrus flavoured cakes.

For someone who isn’t very fond of cakes, it’s rather odd that a pound cake has been on my mind for a long time now. There’s something irresistible about the pale yellow, light, moist looking crumb and golden brown crust of that cake.




The pound cake gets its name from the fact that a pound each of sugar, flour, butter and eggs go into making it. Now that’s a little too much butter and eggs for me. The eggs we don’t really like, while that much butter is something we (my husband and I, at least) can do without.
Yet I couldn’t get that pound cake off my mind. A couple of months back (that’s how long it has taken me to post this cake!), I had made some paneer and left it to drain on the kitchen counter.
While I was waiting, I thought I would try to start on my reader which bursting at the seams with unread posts. Given that I don’t have a lot of time to spare these days, visiting my favourite blogs seems to have taken a back seat. I just don’t seem to be able to catch up.
It was a link on one of those posts (I don’t remember which one) that took me to a ricotta pound cake. I remember that the ingredient list included 2 sticks of butter (that’s about 230gm of butter!) and 5 eggs.




That beautiful cake, however, just brought back my pound cake obsession. When a food obsession gets this bad, I’ve found the sensible thing to do is to give into it.

All the recipes I came across seemed to need a minimum of 1 1/2 sticks of butter. I guess that would be necessary to keep the ratios of ingredients necessary for a pound cake. I still couldn’t bring myself to use that much of butter.

Ricotta isn’t available here but paneer is almost like it, and I did have fresh crumbly paneer in the kitchen. Since paneer would add to the texture of the cake, I decided to reduce the butter a bit and use just one egg.
I guess this means that my cake is no longer a blue-blooded pound cake, but I can live with that.



The result was a wonderfully light and moist cake which just disappeared in no time. In fact, I got these pictures only when I the cake again.
I can guarantee that this is a cake you will want to make again and again. I, for one, am not even looking for another pound cake recipe, unless there’s something so very unusual about it.




Please do not try this cake with store bought paneer (the slab or cubes) as it would be too dry. If you have access to store bought ricotta, that’s good, otherwise making your own paneer/ ricotta is worth doing for this cake. It doesn’t take much time or effort.


Paneer (Ricotta) Pound Cake


Ingredients:


3/4 cup cake flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

60 gm salted butter

3/4 cup drained fresh paneer* (or ricotta)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 tsp lemon juice



Method:


* I made my paneer at home using milk with 2% fat. 1 litre of milk should give you about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of paneer.

To make the paneer/ ricotta:

To make paneer/ ricotta for this cake, boil 1 litre of milk (I used 2% fat). Once it has started boiling, turn down the heat to low so the milk is simmering. Add 1 to 2 tsps of fresh lemon juice (or white vinegar) and keep stirring till the milk solids separate completely.

Take the curdled milk off the heat and allow it to cool a bit, for about 15 minutes. The pour this into a strainer lined with a thin cotton kitchen towel. Allow the paneer to drain for about 20 minutes. Rinse the paneer a couple of times in clean running water and allow to drain again. Press the liquid out lightly.

The paneer should have drained well but be crumbly and moist to touch.

To make the cake:

Sieve the cake flour and the baking powder together. Keep aside.
Run the paneer in the blender till it becomes a very smooth paste.
Put this paneer and the butter in a bowl and, using a hand held mixer, beat well till smooth. Add the sugar and beat till light and fluffy. Scrape down the batter from the sides of the bowl in between.
Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat till well mixed.

Now add the flour and beat on medium speed till smooth. Add the lemon juice and beat again. The batter might look like it has curdled slightly, but that’s alright.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8” (or 9”) cake tin and bake at 180C (350F) for about thirty minutes or till the cake is a done and a skewer inserted into it comes out clean.
If your paneer/ ricotta was a bit wet to start with, it might take another 10 minutes or so of baking to cook the cake.

Cool the cake in the tin for 5 minutes and gently take it out and cool on a rack. Enjoy your cake.
This cake serves 8 to 10.


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August 2, 2010

Pav Bhaji With Home-made Laadi Pav (Spicy Indian Vegetable Curry With Bread Rolls)


Street food is the same all across the world in some aspects. It’s made from locally available ingredients, freshly made, tasty, filling, and easy on the pocket. It isn’t much different in India. Mention street food and each state in India has its own local favourites, but some have moved across state borders to become popular in most parts of the country.
Ask an Indian what his/ her favourite street food is, and 8 times out of 10 you’ll hear the words Bhelpuri, Panipuri and Pav Bhaji.

When I was a child, eating out was considered a waste of good money. I could never make my maternal Grandfather understand why eating out was so desirable when he felt the best food was served at home, three times a day. For him, eating was about familiar, wholesome food that he enjoyed rather than some strange and unfamiliar stuff cooked by someone he didn’t know or trust.

This was despite the fact that he was someone who traveled from India to East Africa and back regularly for work. Of course, those were the days when flights were uncommon and so one crossed the seas by ship. His trips kept him away from home for a large part of the year.

I now see how difficult it must have been for him, as vegetarian who didn’t even eat eggs, to have survived those journeys. After weeks of meals which would have largely consisted of bread, butter, cornflakes, milk, fruit and the like, all he must wanted was to get back home to my Grandmother’s delicious home-cooked meals. And she was an excellent cook.

My sister and I grew up outside India and looked forward to our annual vacation back home once every 2 years, with a lot of impatience. Coming to India on vacation meant fun, including eating Indian food we couldn’t get where we lived. Our mother used try and bridge this gap by cooking a lot of it at home, but it wasn’t easy as many of the ingredients we take for granted in India just weren’t available wherever we lived then.

Pav bhaji was one such food though we discovered it only when we were a bit older. In those days, I don’t remember it being on the menu in eateries or restaurants, and pav bhaji was usually sold on street corners in the evenings from food carts.




I believe it has its origins as lunch eaten by the Mumabi textile mill workers, for whom it was affordable and easy to eat during a very short lunch break. Today, it has risen above its humble origins and can be found on the menu in most restaurants across the country. It also helps that this is a dish which is very easy to cook and serve up.

The “bhaji” is a very spicy red coloured vegetable preparation made of onions, tomatoes, potatoes and spices all cooked an mashed to a the consistency of thick gravy. This is served with chopped raw onion and fresh coriander, a dash of lime juice and a generous dollop of butter on top, all alongside the pav.
For authentic pav bhaji, the butter must be Amul butter which in those days, used to be the only brand of salted butter available in India.
Some say that one hasn’t really eaten pav bhaji until one has had “bhaji on the beach”, where the beach in question is Mumbai’s Chowpatty beach. Now, I have eaten my pav bhaji on that beach. I’d definitely give that beach a miss, and I would probably give the bhaji a miss too, but for a different reason.

The one thing I remember from then was that the bhaji was so spicy, it set my tongue and throat on fire which a lot of water didn’t do much to quench. It probably was because I cannot tolerate very high levels of spiciness because there was any number of people around who were thoroughly enjoying their pav bhajis, my husband included.

Apparently, the trick is to eat some of the raw onion first as this deadens the tongue to the spiciness of the bhaji! What I cannot understand is the point of this, when all one has to do is to reduce the chilli powder in the bhaji. And I do not like the taste of raw onion on its own.

It is, however an experience not to be missed, watching the guys who make the bhaji. They have these large flat iron griddles called “tava”on which they cook the bhaji and the speed and dexterity with which they keep mashing and stirring the cooking vegetables with quick flicks of their wrists is unbelievable.

So what do you do if you don’t live near Chow patty beach? You find a pav bhaji vendor close to you, or head for the nearest eatery serving chaat.
And if the urge to eat pav bhaji hits you, but you would rather not be bothered with changing and going out, you could make some of your own like me.



Home-made Laadi Pav (Soft White Indian Rolls)


The “pav” (also pao or pau and considered the legacy of the Portuguese) refers to small delightfully soft bread rolls that are eaten with the bhaji/ vegetable gravy.
Another explanation for the name “pav” was that pav bahji was always served with a set of four rolls, which were pulled apart and eaten one at a time. In the Marathi language, “pav” means one-fourth.
A slightly weird story also doing the rounds is that the dough for the bread rolls (which were made in huge quantities) was kneaded with the feet instead of hands, to produce enough bread to meet the huge demand for it! “Pav” in Hindi means feet.




The pav for pav bhaji is also called “laadi pav” which means a slab of bread rolls as the rolls are baked as one big slab and the individual rolls are pulled apart.
The “pav” is slit sideway in half and placed, cut side down, in hot butter till lightly toasted and brown before serving it with the “bhaji”.

Before you all admire me for making my own pav, let me assure you that I have never made my own pav till now, though we have pav bhaji at home quite often. I live in Goa where there is no shortage of freshly made bread, and it is also delivered to my door every morning and evening. So I do not see myself regularly making my own pav as long as I live here.
I did want to try my hand at it, and have a good recipe on hand just in case. I have no idea where to find an authentic pav recipe, so I adapted this one for soft white dinner rolls.
You could choose to replace half or all of the lour with whole wheat flour, but remember that pav for this preparation has to be very soft.



Home-made Laadi Pav (Soft White Indian Rolls
(adapted from The New York Times)


Ingredients:


3 1/2 cups to 4 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp active dried yeast

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp honey or sugar

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 tbsp butter, softened

1 to 2 tbsp melted butter for brushing on the pav



Method:


Put 3 1/2 cups of flour, the yeast, salt, sugar (not honey, if you are using it) in a big bowl and whisk together. If you’re using a food processor you can do this in that, by pulsing everything a couple of times.

Put the milk and the butter in a small pan and heat it, while whisking a couple of times, till the milk is just lukewarm. Take it off the heat. If you are using honey instead of sugar, add this to the milk.

Add the lukewarm liquid to the dry ingredients and knead (by hand or in the processor) till a soft and elastic dough forms. You will have to add a bit more of flour (a tbsp at a time) while kneading, to achieve this. Do not be tempted to add more flour, or your rolls will become tough.

Your dough must be soft and elastic, just short of sticky. Shape the dough into a ball.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, rolling the ball of dough till it is coated with oil. Cover with a towel and allow it to double in volume (should take a bout an hour).

Lightly knead the dough and divide equally into about 15 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and place on a greased rectangular baking tin. Place the balls of dough about 1/4” apart in 3 rows of five each.

Cover them with a towel and allow them to rise for 30 minutes. Bake them at 220C (425F) for 10 minutes till they rolls have risen and started browning. Take them out of the oven and quickly brush them with melted butter and bake them for another 5 minutes till the tops have browned well. Take the rolls out and let them cool on a rack.
This recipe makes one sheet of 15 pavs.



The Bhaji


There are many versions of this recipe but this is the one I use to make mine, which is a lot less spicy, and friendlier on the tongue and digestive system. Bhaji (pronounced ‘bhaaji”) means vegetable unlike the word which is pronounced “bhaji/ bhajji” which means fritters.

A true bhaji for pav bhaji need to be very smooth so the vegetables need to mashed very well. There are people who like to see a bit of the vegetables in their bhaji. If you belong to this group, you can mash the vegetables well without destroying their identities!
I have tried both, and the only real difference is in the texture.
You can also use capsicum (green bell peppers) here. If you do, add it just before you add the tomatoes.




You can use pav bhaji masala if you have it, but you don’t really need to buy it just for this. You can use a combination of coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder and garam masala, which works just as well. Using Kashmiri chilli powder also gives you the colour without as much of the fire.
If you have never made this before, do watch the video in this link to get a better idea of how it should look.



Bhaji (Spicy Vegetable Curry)


Ingredients:


3 cups mixed vegetables (carrot, cauliflower, beans, peas)

3 big potatoes

3 big onions, chopped small

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp garlic paste

1 tsp ginger paste

2 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (adjust to taste)

1 1/2 tsp coriander powder

1 1/2 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp garam masala

salt to taste

2 lemons

3 to 4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

2 to 3 tbsp salted butter, softened



Method:


Steam cook the mixed vegetables and the potatoes till well done. Mash them very well and keep aside.

In a largish wok, heat the oil. Add the ginger and garlic pastes and sauté taking care to see it doesn’t burn. Add half the onions and sauté again it is soft and translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook them till they’re soft and mushy.
Use your potato masher, or a wooden spoon, to mash the onion-tomato mixture further. Cook until the oil appears on the edge.

Add the turmeric, chilli, coriander, cumin and garam masala powders. Cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring often, until the raw smell of the spices disappears. Add the mashed vegetables, salt and about half a cup of water. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes until everything blends into a homogenous thick gravy-like consistency, adding a little more water, if necessary.
Add the chopped coriander and a couple of tbsps of butter, mix and serve hot.
This recipe should make four hefty servings.



To serve:


To serve pav bhaji, first melt a couple of tbsps of slated butter in a pan. Slice 2 pieces of the pav sideways and place both, cut sides down, on the melted butter and allow the pav to absorb the butter and brown slightly.




Remove and place on a plate. Add a couple of ladles of the bhaji on the side and top with some of the remaining chopped onions, a dash of fresh lime juice and a dollop of slated butter.
Enjoy your pav bhaji.

My laadi pav goes to Susan for YeastSpotting!


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