January 27, 2013

An Eggless Gevulde Speculaas (Dutch Spiced Biscuit Filled With Almond Paste/ Speculaas Pie) : Daring Bakers Challenge, January 2013

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This is the second time I have baked with Speculaaskruiden in 45 daysand both times its been because someone else prompted me to do so! The first time I baked Speculaas/ Speculoos was because a friend sent me the beautiful wooden windmill shaped moulds that are traditionally used to bake these spiced biscuits. This second time was because it was the challenge of the month down at The Daring Bakers.
Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! Delicious!
It was delicious. You can find the detailed challenge recipe here.



 
As we in India know, the Dutch established a presence in India to trade and boost their economy  out of textiles/ silks, spices, coffee, rubber, tobacco, tea, precious stones, indigo, opium and saltpetre which was an important ingredient in gunpowder. They did this by eventually driving out the Portuguese who had a monopoly on the pepper and other spice trade in India and then monopolised it from the 1600s till the 1800s when the British took it over. So it isn’t surprising to see a lot of spices that we use in India being used in cooking/ baking in the Netherlands.
Initially, these spices were used only by the very rich because they were expensive, and also for baking during the festivities. In the Netherlands, Christmas is celebrated on the 6th of December as St. Nicholas Day and Speculaas/ Speculoos/ Spekulatius which are crunchy spiced biscuits baked specially for this season. A special spice mix called Speculaaskruiden made with cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger, pepper, cardamom, coriander, anise seeds and nutmeg is used in these biscuits. Now the proportion of the spices and the spices themselves would depend different family recipes but they would have cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.


 

Having eaten the famous Lotus brand of Speculoos and become fans of this particular biscuit, and having made some of my own and liked them even better, I knew I had to try this version called Gevulde Speculaas. Gevulde Speculaas is nothing but a sort of Speculaas pie where an almond paste/ filling is baked between two layers of Speculoos dough, so you have a crunchy biscuit exterior that hides a soft nutty middle.
I used my own mix of Speculaaskruiden that I had left over from making Speculoos/ Speculaas and made this egg-free. To make my almond paste, I used milk instead of egg, and a little lime juice. Unfortunately, I added a little more milk than I should have and my paste wasn’t as thick as I would have liked it. So I added a little semolina to dry out my almond paste and also some desiccated coconut, and that’s the recipe you’ll see below. It is not traditional, but it’s what I used and it was good!



 

I was also a bit lazy and did not skin my almonds (I don’t get skinned ones at the stores here) and ground them skin and all. This is why I have a brown coloured filling in my Gevulde Speculaas, which tastes just as nice but perhaps doesn’t make for great photographs.
The other nice thing about this recipe is that it can be broken into parts and be done ahead. You can make the almond paste and the Speculaas dough a day or two ahead and refrigerate them. The almond paste can be stored a little longer in the freezer. This also improves the flavour from spices.  

Eggless Gevulde Speculaas (Dutch Spiced Biscuit Filled With Almond Paste/ Speculaas Pie)

 

Ingredients: 

For The Almond Paste: 

1 1/3 cup ground almond (or 7/8 cup skinned almonds, ground to a powder)*
 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 to 4 tsp milk
1/8 cup semolina
1/8 cup desiccated coconut
1 1/2 tsp lime juice
1 tsp lime zest
 

For the Speculaas Dough: 

 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 
 1 tsp baking powder
 3/4 cup brown sugar
 a pinch salt
150gm butter, chilled and cubed
1/8 to 1/4 cup milk (for the dough, if necessary)  

Some skinned and halved almonds to decorate

 

Method: 

*To skin the almonds, drop them in boiling water and turn off the heat. After about 5 minutes, drain the water.  The skin of the almonds would have loosened. Pinch off the skin and it will slip off the almonds. Air dry the almonds before grinding them. I store my almonds in the freezer and usually grind them straight from the freezer.
Make the almond paste:
To grind the almonds, put them in your grinder jar and run them till they’re coarsely ground. Then add the granulated sugar and grind them till they’re fine.
Then add the lime juice and the milk and run the grinder till its mixed into a smooth paste. Transfer this paste to a bowl and add the semolina, desiccated coconut and lime zest and mix well. You should have a thick paste that will spread when pressed out with a spoon. If you prefer you can have the paste thick so that it can be rolled out. Store this in the fridge (or freezer) till required. 

Now make the Speculaas dough:
I used my food processor but you can do this by hand. Put the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices in the processor bowl. Pulse a couple of times to mix. Then add the butter cubes and knead till the dough comes together as crumbs. Add as much (or little) of the milk as necessary to have a smooth dough. The dough should not be very soft. Do not over process or overwork the dough. 
Divide the dough into two almost equal portions (one portion slightly larger than the other), shape into a smooth ball and then flatten into thick discs. Wrap both discs of dough in cling wrap. Refrigerate them for at least 2 hours and overnight is good too.
 

 

Assembling and baking the Gevulde Speculaas:
You can use a rectangular pan (8” by 10”) and you can cut out the Speculaas into neat squares. I used an 8” round fluted tart pan with a removable base.
Take the almond paste out of the fridge/ freezer ahead so that it is soft enough to spread.
Take the dough discs out of the refrigerator and let it soften enough so that it can be rolled out easily. Lightly dust your working surface with flour and roll out the dough. You can roll out the dough between two layers of parchment or plastic wrap as this will make it easier to roll out the dough and transfer it to the pan.
First roll out the slightly larger disc so that it will fit into your baking pan at the bottom and up the sides. Place this into the greased pan and lightly press in to fit. Evenly spread the almond paste on this base, or if it is thicker, roll it out to fit the pan. Roll out the other disc of dough to just fit the top. Place this on the paste and press down gently at the edges using your fingers tips. Decorate with the halved almonds.
Bake the Gevulde Speculaas at 180C (350F) for about 40 minutes till the top feels firm. Cool in the pan completely and gently unmould. Cut and serve with coffee, tea, milk or hot chocolate.  This tastes best fresh but you can refrigerate this after wrapping it in clingfilm, but do warm it slightly before serving. This Speculaas is rich and very filling so this recipe should serve 10 to 12.  
 
 
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January 24, 2013

We Knead To Bake #1 : Herb & Cheese Pull-Apart Bread Loaf

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here are a lot of recipes or food ideas that I have book marked because I have wanted to explore them further. Unfortunately, my list of bookmarks grows inversely proportional to the number of recipes/ ideas that I manage to take off that list! As I mentioned somewhere earlier, I don’t make New Year resolutions for 2 reasons.
The first reason being that I don’t think one needs the New Year to make resolutions because if they are worth making and seeing through, than they can be done at any time of the year.
The second reason (And this is probably the real reason if I will admit it to myself) is that I’m sure to break any reason I make on the first day of January, before the month is out!


 
All that aside, I made a decision (not a resolution, mind you) to try and work my way through that list of bookmarks starting with some bread. I’m always ready to bake bread and if I come across something new or different (not necessarily difficult) I make a note of it. So I set myself a goal to definitely bake one bread off my list every month.
Then it also struck me that it might be fun to bake bread in company, even though virtual, so I asked my friends if they would like to join me. I must say I was quite surprised at the response! And this marks the beginning of a bread baking series of baking a bread a month, together, as a group of food bloggers.
I put together the group of all the food bloggers who said they wanted to bake along, and sent everyone the recipe. If we are a group then we ought to have a name since we were going to baking together throughout 2103. I came up with “We Knead To Bake” which I thought sounded right.


 
The first bread I picked to bake was a Pull-Apart Bread Loaf. I believe I was searching the net for something else, not even bread, when I came across a stacked Pull-Apart bread somewhat like this and this. More than anything else, it was the rustic look of the bread, and the thought that I could make a bread that came apart in “slices” without cutting it that I found attractive.

A whole lot of the Pull-Aparts I saw were sweet and involved a lot of butter and eggs. While I have nothing against eggs (well not too many of them at one go) I thought baking egg-free might be nice since I know many of those who are baking this bread don’t eat eggs. Also given that December was all about sweet stuff I decided to make my Pull-Apart Bread savoury and filled it with mixed herbs, grated Cheddar cheese, crushed cumin seeds and black pepper.


 
My personal experience with this bread is all good. It looks great and is really quite easy to make. Best of all, its soft and so good that it will have disappeared within an hour of baking/ serving it! This is a very versatile dough/ bread in that you can play around with the filling, and even make a sweet version. If you would like to go with a sweet filling, just omit the garlic in the dough and add 1/4 cup sugar to the dough while kneading.




If you don’t have a loaf tin, you can make this as small rolls with the slices of dough stacked in a muffin cups or maybe in a bundt pan or even a cake tin. Or make them as traditionally shaped cinnamon bun style rolls. Whichever way you shape them, this bread is worth baking. If you don’t believe me, ask all those who bake along with me. 

Herb & Cheese Pull-Apart Bread
 

Ingredients: 

For the Dough:

1/2 cup warm milk
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 3/4 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
25gm butter, soft at room temperature
3/4 to 1 tsp garlic paste
3/4 cup milk (+ a couple of tbsp to brush over the bread)
 

For the Filling:

15 to 20gm melted butter
2 tsp dried Provencal or mixed herbs*
1 tsp crushed cumin seeds
Crushed pepper/ red chilli flakes to taste
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
 

Method:

As almost always, I used my food processor but you may knead the dough by hand.
In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar and the yeast in the 1/2 cup of warm milk. Keep aside for about 5 minutes till the yeast mixture bubbles up.
Put 2 3/4 cup of flour, salt, softened butter, and garlic paste in the food processor bowl (or a large bowl) and pulse a couple of times to mix. Then add the yeast mixture and the 3/4 cup of milk and knead till you have a soft, smooth and elastic/ pliable dough which is not sticky. Add a little extra flour if your dough is sticking, but only just as much as is necessary.
Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a well-oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat it completely with oil. Cover and let it rise for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until almost double in volume.
 
 
Dust your work surface lightly with flour. Deflate the dough, shape it into a square and roll the dough out into a larger square that is about 12’ by 12”. Brush the surface of the square with the melted butter. Evenly sprinkle the herbs, pepper/ chilli flakes and the cumin seeds and then the grated cheese. Use a rolling pin to very lightly press the topping into the dough to ensure the topping doesn’t fall off when you are stacking the strips (#1).
Using a pizza cutter, slice the dough from top to bottom into 6 long and even strips – they do not have to be perfect. Lay each strip on top of the next, with the topping facing upwards, until you have a stack of the strips (#2)
You can put the 2 strips cut from the sides in the middle of the stack so it looks neater. Using a pastry scraper or a sharp knife, cut straight down through the stack dividing it into 6 equal pieces (6 square stacks).
Grease and lightly flour a 9” by 4” (or 5”) loaf tin. Butter and lightly flour a 9 x 5 loaf pan. Layer the square slices, cut sides down into the loaf tin (#3).
Cover the loaf tin dough with a towel and allow the dough to rise for an hour. Lightly brush some milk over the top of the loaf (#4).
Bake the dough at 180C (350F) for about 30 to 40 minutes until it is done and the top is golden brown. This recipe bakes one 9” by 5” loaf (#5).
 
The collection of links below will take you to the individual posts of all those who baked with me this month. There's quite a variety of Pull-Apart breads  with the most interesting fillings, some sweet and some savoury.
Do come back, in a month's time to see what we all bake in February. In the meanwhile, happy browsing! 
This bread is also being YeastSpotted!

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January 22, 2013

An Easy Sweet & Savoury Tomato Jam

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hat do you do when life gives you ripe tomatoes, and then loads of it? Eat them raw (if they’re sweet, put them in salads, add them to curries, make a Marinara sauce or Salsa di Pomodorie e Mele, maybe ketchup or even a nice spicy jam, turn them into chutneys/ gojju and pickles, bake them, stuff them or swirl some into bread, soup (warm or chilled),………..



 
You get my drift. I have no need to preserve tomatoes, because one of the many perks of living in India is that there are a lot of vegetables and some fruit too, that we get in plenty all the year round. However I felt like making a simple jam with ripe tomatoes, one without too many spices or other additions, so that the flavour of the tomatoes would come through.
Making sweet jams is just fine, but there usually no takers for this kind in my home. We rarely have a butter-and-jam-with-toast kind of breakfast and prefer our traditional Indian savoury sort of breakfasts.  





 But a sweet and savoury or tangy sort of jam or chutney is more in demand because we can eat with dosas or Indian flat breads like chappathis or parathas. I prefer to snack on crackers topped with this sort of jam/ chutney with maybe a little sharp grated cheese and some chopped coriander. Its an excellent thing to have with a steaming hot cup of masala tea. 
I had some strawberries which were threatening to spoil, so I threw those into my jam. They add a nice colour and flavour to the jam, but you can leave them out. I rarely add vinegar to my jams/ preserves/ chutneys because we don’t like the sharpness/ acidity it adds. Since I usually make small batches of these I don’t need to use vinegar for its preservative properties. But this once, I decided to add a bit of apple cider vinegar to my jam, and I liked it. This is a sweet jam with a savoury notes.


 
I sometimes get lazy while cooking and take shortcuts. Whenever I have to make a tomato anything that involves cooking the heck out of them, I tend to take an easy way out. It helps that my daughter doesn’t particularly like tomatoes if she can see them as pieces in anything I cook. So I tend to run tomatoes in my blender (skin, seeds and all) so they’re just broken down and a little chunky.  It gives texture to your sauce, chutney or jam.
These days, if you are to be considered someone who knows their food and are a food blogger, food must be about “texture” amongst other things, or you don’t make the grade!


 
So here’s my recipe for a Sweet & Savoury Tomato Jam. It’s not the first one out there, but it’s the one that appeals to our tastes, and we really like it. If you should make it, please feel free to adjust the amounts/ proportions of the ingredients to suit your taste.
You can use white granulated sugar in place of brown sugar and you will have a more red than brownish coloured jam. For a twist, try using powdered jaggery instead of sugar.

Sweet & Savoury Tomato Jam
 

Ingredients:

1 1/2 kg ripe tomatoes
2 medium sized onions, finely chopped
1 cup chopped strawberries (optional)
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup brown sugar (depending on how tart your tomatoes are)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp red chilli flakes (or to taste)
Juice of 1 lime
1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp apple cider vinegar (optional)
 

Method:

As I mentioned earlier, I sometimes get lazy while cooking and take shortcuts. So I just chop the tomatoes and run them in blender till they broken down but still a little chunky.
If you prefer to do it the “proper” way then fill a pan with enough water to submerge the tomatoes and bring it to boil. Cut the stem/ the top off the tomatoes and then slice a shallow “X” at the bottom of the tomatoes. 
Put the tomatoes into the boiling water, turn down the heat to medium, and leave them there till the skins loosen. Take the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon and once they have cooled, just pinch off the skins. Discard the skins, and chop the tomatoes.
I prefer to have my onions puréed so I run them along with the tomatoes in the blender. Put the chopped or crushed/ chunky tomatoes, onions (if using chopped), strawberries, the sugar, salt and chilli flakes in a thick bottomed pan and bring to boil while stirring occasionally. Turn the heat down to low and cook the mixture till it becomes thick. Don’t forget to stir it on and off so it doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn.
Add the coriander and cumin powders and the apple cider vinegar. Cook for another 5 minutes, and take the jam off the heat. Let it cool completely and transfer to sterilized jar. Refrigerate. This recipe makes 1 medium sized jar of tomato jam.
 
 
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January 19, 2013

The Pondicherry Kitchen – A Review, A Recipe for Puducherry (Pondicherry) Sambhar & A Giveaway

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have often thought that if I were to win the lottery and lots of money, one thing I would do would be to tour the world. It is extremely unlikely that I would win anyway, since I don’t buy lottery tickets.

There are however, a few places on my “must-see eventually” and they definitely don’t need me to win the lottery. One of them is Pondicherry (now known as Puducherry) which lies on the other side of the Indian peninsula from where I live. From here it is about 800km (a little over 500miles) to Pondicherry, which is closer to Chennai and a 2 1/2 hour drive from there.



Pondicherry, on the Indian East Coast, is one of the states of India and a former French colony, and often referred to as the “French Riviera of the East”! It is also home to the world famous Aurobindo Ashram.
So it is not surprising that the cuisine of Pondicherry, like everything else there, is heavily influenced by the French way of life. It is a unique and vibrant fusion of Tamil and French cooking that has also borrowed from Indian, Portuguese and Malaysian cooking. In Pondicherrian cuisine, many typically French dishes have been adapted to suit tastebuds used to spicier Indian food yet with minimal use of spices.
Not only have I never visited Pondicherry, the cuisine is also something that I am not familiar with. So it was with interest that I thumbed through the pages of the copy of “The Pondicherry Kitchen – Traditional recipes form the Indo-French territory” by Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis, that Westland sent me.



 
I just realised how much connected to Tamil cuisine this style of cooking is when I recognised a lot of dishes that we make at home, though the recipes are a bit different! I can also see the Portuguese influence in the Dodol and the Assad.
The Pondicherry Kitchen was originally written in French as “French Cuisine Traditionnelle de Pondichery” and recently published in an English version. The author spent several years collecting old recipes and culinary secrets from in and around Pondicherry, many of them transmitted orally through generations and put them together in the book.
The cookbook starts with a brief introduction and is divided into various chapters mostly based on ingredients like Rice, Egg, Chicken, Turkey, Lamb, Seafood, etc  and Snacks, Rasam and Cakes & Sweetmeats. Most of the recipes in this book are non-vegetarian naturally, but a number of them are vegetarian. It is interesting to note that the use of coconut is minimal in this cuisine unlike in other South Indian cooking.
Some of the recipes in this book include Cottamali Kiraiy Cutney (Coriander Chutney), Takaali Pajam Chutney (Tomato Chutney), Vadavam Tovayal, Mimosa Muthaiy (Oeufs Mimosa), Erral Urundaiy Curry (Curry de Boulettes de Crevettes), Athu Kary Roll (Lamb Papillote), Pachaiy Patani Curry (Mouton aux Petits Pois), Ragou (Ragoût), Chow Chow Sauce Planche (Chow Chow Sauce Blanche) and Maraval Kujangu Cake (Tapioca Cake).




 One thing I really liked about this book is the Recipe Index where each chapter has been listed with the recipes in it and the pages they are on, but I wish this had been put at the beginning of the book rather than pushed to the back of the book.
The recipes all have a brief introduction and both traditional names and their English versions are given. Almost all of them are simple to cook and require ingredients that are commonly used in Indian cooking. Almost every regional Indian cuisine has its own particular mix of spices and Pondicherry cuisine is no different. The author starts the book with a chapter on Spices & Condiments which details these “masalas”, the different kinds of “Kootu Thool”, Vadavam and Vassanaiy Thool.




 
On the flip side, the book has rather lack-lustre photographs of some of the dishes which take away from the recipes, and they are all clumped together in two lots in the middle of the book. A couple of the recipes I tried out also seemed to be on the spicier side, which is probably the way those dishes are meant to be. So I would suggest a bit of caution, and ask you to use your judgement while adding chillies especially if you are not used to very spicy food.


 
This is a book worth having in your cookbook collection if you are interested in exploring the lesser known regional Indian cuisines. It is also a cookbook that would appeal to a plate that is adventurous or one looking for more global influenced Indian style of cooking.
 

About the Author

Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis holds Masters degrees in French and English, and a PhD in sociolinguistics, and she teaches languages at the Lycée Français of Pondicherry. The French government has honoured her with the distinction of Chevalier des Palmes Academiques. She has written 2 cookbooks in French and hopes to translate the second one also to English. She and her husband, Dr Bernard A. Louis, live in Pondicherry.
After going through the vegetarian recipes in The Pondicherry Kitchen, it seemed that many of them were variations of dishes that I normally cook at home. I was tempted to try out a couple of the sweet recipes (and I will later) but ultimately settled for a savoury recipe, the Puducherry (Pondicherry) Sambhar.
What struck me as different about this recipe from the Sambhar we usually make, apart from the lack of coconut, is the use of garlic, cumin seeds and fresh coriander leaves. I have to say it works very well just like the other unusual Sambhar I now often make. I just went a little easy on the garlic and a bit on the red chillies for my sambhar.

Puducherry (Pondicherry) Sambhar
(Reproduced with permission from Westland)
 

Ingredients: 

1 cup toor/ tuvar dal (split gram lentils)
2 cups water
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 +1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
6 dry red chillies, broken into 2 (seeds discarded)
1/2 tsp asafoetida
2 big aubergines (or any vegetable of your choice), cut into big pieces
1 big tomato, cut into pieces
1/2 tsp jaggery, optional
6 curry leaves
2 big onions (or 50gm shallots) finely chopped
Salt to taste
1/2 tbsp tamarind pulp
6 garlic cloves, crushed coarsely
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds, powdered coarsely
1/2 tbsp black peppercorns, powdered coarsely
1 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped

 

Method: 

In a pressure cooker, add the toor dal, turmeric powder and 1 tbsp oil. Pressure cook for 3 whistles, switch off the flame and let the pressure drop. Set aside.
Strain the water out and keep it aside. Set the dal aside.In a pan heat 1 tbsp oil, add the mustard seeds and the urad dal and let them splutter.
Add the dry red chillies, asafoetida, vegetable of choice, tomato, jaggery if using, curry leaves, onions, salt and the water in which the dal was cooked.
Cover the pan and cook till the vegetables are done.
Add the tamarind pulp, cooked dal, crushed garlic, cumin and peppercorns and the coriander leaves.
Cover the pan for 10 minutes, stir and adjust seasoning.
Serve piping hot with rice and ghee and vegetables.
This recipe serves 6.
 



I am giving away the review copy the Pondicherry Kitchen by Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis to one randomly chosen lucky reader of this blog.
If you would like to try your luck at winning this book, please leave a comment at this post telling me why you would think this cookbook might have a place on your bookshelf and in your kitchen. Please also leave your mail-id or a link to yourself that I can find easily in case you happen to be the lucky winner. If I have to search and dig around to find you, I will choose an alternate winner for the book.
This giveaway is open only to readers in India. If you live outside India you're welcome to participate so long as you have a shipping address within India.
The giveaway is open till the midnight of 30th of January, 2013.

 
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January 14, 2013

Venn Pongal (South Indian Rice & Split Lentil Risotto) With A Simple Coconut Chutney & Tomato Gojju/ Ghotsu for Makara Sankrathi/ Thai Pongal

T
oday is the 14th of January, 2013 and a very auspicious day that is much celebrated across most states of India. Depending on where it is celebrated, this festival is known as Lohri, Bihu, Makara Sankranthi and Thai Pongal.
Astronomy and astrology is an intrinsic part of Hindu life and important astronomical events are woven into Hindu celebrations and festivities. This day, Makara Sankranthi, marks the beginning of the Sun’s transit from the Tropic of Cancer northwards towards the Tropic of Capricorn (Makara) or from the “Dakshinayana” to the “Uttarayana”.  This day (from the 13th to the 15th of the month in other parts of India) is celebrated as the end of winter and beginning of warmer days in the North. It is also a celebration of the winter harvest and a Thanksgiving of sorts.
It is also the first day of the Tamil month of “Thai” (pronounced short to rhyme with “thigh”) hence the name Thai Pongal. “Pongal” means to “boil/ spill over” and in Tamilnadu, this day is typically started with heating milk in a auspiciously decorated clay pot until it boils and spills over. This is supposed to symbolise the beginning of a warmer weather and a hope that the coming year would “overflow” with peace and prosperity.
In Tamilnadu, Pongal is actually celebrated over 4 days. The first day is celebrated as “Bhogi”. A sort of ritualistic spring cleaning is done and all old and useless things in the house are cleaned out and piled outside. Homes are painted and decorated. Even domestic cattle (usually cows) have their horns painted in beautiful patterns. Early in the morning on “Bhogi”, everyone gathers around and the mound is lit into a bonfire.


 
The second day is “Thai Pongal” (which is today) when milk is ritually boiled and spilt, and rice and split moong lentil dish cooked with milk is prepared in two versions – sweet and savoury. The sweet version is Chakkarai/ Sakkarai Pongal (cooked with jaggery) and the savoury one is called Venn Pongal.

The third day is celebrated as “Maatu Pongal”. “Mattu” refers to cows and they were considered not only very important in an agricultural society where they not only provided milk and organic fertilizer (cow dung which was also dried and used to burn in fires)) but were used on the farms and in the fields. They were the wealth of the farmer. The cows are decorated in bright colours and flowers, and ritually honoured. In the countryside, this is day for cattle races and “Jallikattu” which is bull taming sport.
The fourth day is “Kaanum Pongal” and is a day for family get-togethers and reunions or visiting family and friends. “Kaanum” means seeing and traditionally it was a day for the farming families (especially landlords) to thank all who would have helped and supported them through the harvest, with gifts of clothes, money and food.
As PalakkadIyers, we celebrate Pongal but a lot differently from the way it is celebrated in Tamilnadu. We celebrate only the Makara Sankranthi day and it is a simple affair. Makara Sankranti is also a time to remember departed ancestors, so all male members in our community who have lost one or both parents perform the “Tharpanam” which is a ritual remembrance of ancestors.
We don’t do the ritual boiling over of milk but we make Pongal, the sweet and savoury rice and lentil preparations, and offer it to God after which the family enjoys it for breakfast.





We also celebrate “Maatu Pongal” the next day. Traditionally, when keeping cows at home was a part of life, they were washed, decorated and fed Pongal and bananas. Since cows are not a part of urban life, we only do the ritual feeding of crows with rice (cooked the previous day) and yogurt, coconut, jaggery and banana, with some turmeric and betel nuts, all placed on pieces of banana leaves in the backyard. This is done early in the morning, only by the women and girl children of the house.
Ven Pongal is very popular in Tamilnadu even on non-festive days and often served as breakfast. It is not a spicy rice preparation and pairs well with any gravy dish that’s a bit spicy and tangy. Traditionally, it is usually served warm with coconut chutney and sambhar (a tangy vegetable and lentil curry) or a similar gravy dish that is tangy. Here however, I’m serving mine here with a non-traditonal (for us) Gojju/ Gotsu.  

There are a couple of things to keep in mind while cooking Pongal, whether sweet or savoury.

1.       Use a short or medium grained raw rice (not boiled or parboiled) to make Pongal. Sona Masuri is good variety of rice to use. Do not use Basmati or any long grained or aromatic rice to make it. There is a misconception amongst people who are not familiar with Indian cooking that Indian rice dishes need to be made with Basmati rice for authenticity.

You will rarely find Basmati rice used in South Indian cooking except for Biryani, Pulaoor perhaps Phirni.

2.      Pongal, when it is cooked, resembles Italian risotto. It should be moist, but not wet and definitely not dry. If your cooked rice and lentil looks dry, you can add a little milk to make it moist.

3.      These are celebratory dishes and so use quite a bit of ghee. A little skimping on the ghee is fine, but if you don’t use enough, it will make a difference in the taste, and texture. There is also no tempering with mustard seeds here.

4.      You will find a lot of variation in the recipes for Ven Pongal all of which are probably authentic but differ depending on who is cooking them. However all will have rice, split moong lentils, cumin, black peppercorns and ghee.

5.      This version is the one that my mother, and her mother before her, cooked. In this version the peppercorns are usually left whole but you can coarsely crush them open if you prefer. Keeping them whole means your Pongal will not be too spicy, and those who don’t want the “fire” can pick them out while eating.

6.      Traditionally, the only fat in this dish is ghee. In Tamilnadu, I have eaten this many places with lots of ghee which is not a great way to eat this dish, but it seems to help keep the “moist” texture of the dish.

A better way to cook Ven Pongal is to add a little ghee to the rice and lentils while they’re cooking. This helps the sticky rice from clumping together when cold. The best way to eat Ven Pongal is warm as soon as it is cooked. 
 

Here is my recipe for Ven Pongal, and if you scroll further down you’ll find the recipes for the coconut chutney as well as the Tomato Gojju/ Ghotsu.  You can find the recipe for Chakkarai/Sakkarai Pongal (Rice and Lentils Cooked in Jaggery and Ghee) here.

Venn Pongal (South Indian Rice & Split Lentil Risotto)
 

Ingredients: 

1 cup short grain raw rice (sona masoori is good)
1/2 cup split yellow dal (moong dal)
1 tsp ghee
3/4 cup milk (or more if required)
About 5 cups water*
Salt to taste (this dish should be salty enough to just about taste it in the rice)
4 to 5 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp whole black pepper (or coarsely crushed if you prefer)
1/4 tsp asafoetida
2 sprigs curry leaves
 

Method:

Heat the 1 tsp of ghee in a pan and roast the split moong lentils, over medium heat, stirring constantly until the lentils give off an aroma and start turning golden brown. Do not brown the lentils. Take this off the stove and cook the roasted lentils and rice together with the milk, water and salt either on the stove-top, MW or in a pressure cooker until they’re well cooked and bit mushy. If your rice-lentil mixture seems a little dry add a bit of milk to make it moist.
*Traditionally, freshly harvested rice is cooked for Pongal. New rice requires more water than aged rice. So the amount of water needed to cook your rice will depend on the variety of rice and its age.
In a small pan, heat the ghee (do let it become smoking hot), and add the cumin seeds. Stir a couple of times and add the asafoetida powder and black peppercorns. Stir once and turn off the heat. Add the curry leaves. Stir once or twice and once they crisp up, add this seasoning to the rice-lentil mixture.
Mix well, and do not worry if the rice looks mushy; it’s meant to be that way. Serve hot with Coconut Chutney and Gojju/ Ghotsu or Sambhar. This recipe serves 3 to 4 when served with other accompaniments.
 
It has been ages since I participated in the few blog events that I used to enjoy being a part of. This month Susan hosts the 55th edition of her “My Legume LoveAffair” and I’m sending my Ven Pongal her way.
 

Tomato Gojju/ Gotsu (Spicy Tomato Chutney)

A Gojju is a side dish from the Indian state of Karnataka. It is a dish of vegetables in a gravy and a nice blend of spicy and tangy from the tamarind used in it, with just a hint of sweet. Gojju is made with vegetables like okra (vendakkai), bitter gourd (parikkai/ pavakkai,) capsicum/ green bell peppers, onions and even pineapples among others.
In our home we make something similar to Gojju, but we call it “Puli Pachadi” where “puli” is “tamarind”. A Puli Pachadi can be made with and without coconut.



 
This is a Tomato Gojju and requires no tamarind as the tomatoes themselves provide the tang here. You can also add onions to this dish for a twist, but we don’t use onions in festive cooking so I’m leaving it out in this recipe.  You can also run the tomatoes in a blender so that you have chunky tomato pulp which cooks faster. Do not purée the tomatoes.


Tomato Gojju/ Gotsu (Spicy Tomato Chutney)
 

Ingredients:

2 tsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp split black gram lentils (urad dal)
1 1/2 tsp Bengal gram lentils (chana dal)
2 sprigs curry leaves
1/4 tsp asafoetida powder
1/2kg ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp Rasam powder (or 1 tsp of Sambhar powder +1 tsp of coriander powder)*
1 tbsp powdered jaggery
Salt to taste
2 to 3 tsp chopped fresh coriander for garnishing
 

Method:

*You can use commercially available Rasam powder or Sambhar powder for this.
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Add the mustard seeds and stir. Once they splutter, add the black gram and Bengal gram lentils and stir occasionally, over medium heat, till they start browning. Now add the asafoetida powder and curry leaves. Stir a couple of times and add the chopped (or chunky) tomatoes.
Turn up the heat a little and add the turmeric and chilli powders, and the salt. Also add about a 1/4 cup of water and once everything comes to a boil, tuen the heat down to medium-low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the tomato is cooked, and the liquid has come down by half.
Add the powdered jaggery and the Rasam powder/ Sambhar + coriander powder. Stir well and cook for another couple of minutes, then take it off the heat. The finished Gojju/ Gotsu should have a semi-solid consistency.
Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with chopped fresh coriander and serve. This recipe will serve 3 with other accompaniments. You can serve this also with Indian breads like chapattis and parathas, and dosas.
 

A Simple Coconut Chutney 

Coming from a part of India where coconuts are very much a part of the landscape, it is little wonder that we use a lot of coconut in our traditional cooking. In the good old days before the advent of high-rise living, every self-respecting Keralite has at least half a dozen coconut trees around his house. Many of us may no longer have the convenience or even luxury of a home grown coconut, and have to buy them at the market or store.
One of the simplest coconut dishes in Kerala is the coconut chutney. There are literally a thousand different ways to make coconut chutney depending on what you put into it. It can be a thick chutney (called Thogaiyal/ Chammandhi) or a more semi-liquid variation which accompanies most South Indian “tiffin’ like Idlis, Dosas, UppumaKozhukottai, etc.



 
Coconut chutneys can be made in a variety of flavours, but at the simplest, it is made by grinding together only freshly grated coconut and green chillies with a little water and tempered/ seasoned with mustard seeds, lentils (urad dal) and curry leaves in coconut oil. It is a chutney that is full of the flavour and taste of coconut, featuring it at its best.
This particular recipe is Coconut Chutney at its simplest and best. You can add a little bit of fresh coriander leaves (and sliced onions too) to the coconut while grinding it for variation. If you would like to use a little less coconut in your chutney, reduce the coconut to 2 cups and grind about 1/2 cup of pan roasted Bengal gram/ Dhaliya (not the Bengal gram lentil) to the coconut while grinding. Some people choose to add a bit of tamarind or even raw mango if it is the season for an interesting twist in taste.

A Simple Coconut Chutney
 

Ingredients: 

3 cups fresh grated coconut
3 green chillies (or to taste)
Salt to taste
1 1/2 tsp coconut oil (or flavourless cooking oil)
1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp split black gram lentils (urad dal)
 2 red chillies, each broken into two or three
 1 sprig of curry leaves
 

Method:

Put the coconut and chillies in the bowl of your mixer/ grinder/ blender and grind to a smooth paste with a little water at a time(not too much) to a smooth paste. Transfer this to a serving bowl.
Heat the coconut oil, add the mustard seeds and let them splutter. Then over low heat, add the lentils and let them become a golden brown. Add the broken chillies, stir once or twice and turn off the heat. Add the curry leaves and once they crisp, add the seasoning to the chutney. Mix in and serve.
This recipe should serve3 to 4. 

 
Here’s wishing everyone who celebrates Makar Sankranthi and Pongal,
that the coming year brings you
Happiness, Peace & Prosperity.
 
 
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