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comfort cooking

Life happens! As with all of us, when things get busy and I don’t get enough time to spend in my kitchen to whip up ‘signature’-level concoctions, I tend to stay in my comfort zone and create a few dishes from home that I grew up eating and learnt to make from my mom. This is the food that made me into who I am and how I cook.

subzi & roti

I believe we all are  a product of the environment we were raised in – it shapes us in so many different ways anddefines our personalities. The food we eat growing up is an integral part of that environment and nourishes both, our body and our mind, molding us into who we are and how we fit into the world today. I have lived away from home for several years, gone through lifestyle changes, adapted to different cultures, acquired new tastes and even became a Mom along the way, but this is what I often crave and most naturally cook; this is me!

daal & chawal

Join me in my comfort cooking zone and enjoy the simplicity of these elegant, home-style Indian dishes.

Crispy Bhindi

(Crispy Okra Stir-fry)

Here’s a simple approach to fixing bhindi, which is more commonly known as okra or ladies’ finger. It is found in abundance throughout India and is available almost all year round.  With a slim green pod, a fuzzy skin and filled with creamy  edible seeds, it’s a hearty, wholesome vegetable. But when you cut it open, okra exudes a glutinous, slimy juice that makes it a little less attractive for most cooks.

Here, in US, the most popular ways of making okra is either by deep frying it or using it in Gumbo. Deep frying takes the sliminess away where as in the Gumbo, they use the same juice as a thickening agent to enrich the stew.  Indians have a few different methods of fixing okra – we  sauté it, curry it,  stuff it or add it to anything we like….the possibilities are unlimited!

I often find myself making bhindi several ways as it is rather jhatpat (quick & easy) to dish out & goes very well on the side of rotisdaal or rice. In my usual recipe, neatly diced okra slices are pan roasted on high flame in some oil along with cumin, mustard, turmeric and cayenne. But then, there is yet another way to develop the same wonderful seared flavor and that is by roasting the okra in the oven!  The high heat takes the sliminess away,  leaving behind a subtly spicy smoky crispy okra concoction.

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Serves 2

½ lb okra, cut into ½ cm thick slices (I recommend using fresh okra, but if you have frozen one, it may not turn as crispy but will work just fine)

okra slices

2-3 tbsp oil (canola, sunflower, corn, vegetable)

½ tsp mustard seeds (rai/mori)

½ tsp cumin seeds (jeera)

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 pinch asafoetida (hing) (See concoctions 101 for more info)

salt, to taste

1 tsp cayenne pepper or red chilli powder (use ½ tsp if you don’t like it that hot)

1 pinch sugar (for a Maharashtrian touch)

fresh cilantro/coriander, finely chopped for garnishing

Method I

Heat oil in a pan or kadhai over medium flame. Add mustard and cumin seeds along with the turmeric powder and pinch of asafoetida. When the seeds splutter, add the okra slices. Turn the heat up to high and stir-fry for a few of minutes. Season with salt and red chilli powder and add a pinch of sugar. Traditional Maharashtrian cooking calls for a little sugar in all savory recipes to bring out the flavors.

Continue sautéing for 10-15 mins on medium high heat, stirring every now and then to make sure okra cooks and gets crispy but doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan or burn.

Method II

Alternatively, you can make it by roasting okra in the oven. Preheat oven 450 deg F.

Combine oil, mustard and cumin seeds along with turmeric, cayenne pepper, asafoetida and  salt and toss okra in it.

Transfer in an oven safe glass baking dish or spread it over a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15-20 mins (or more depending on your oven), shaking the baking dish/sheet occasionally, till you get dark brown sear on the okra.

For both methods, remove from heat and transfer it to a serving bowl/platter. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve hot with rotis, hot off the flame!

hot rotis

§ Tip: When buying fresh okra at the supermarket, make sure that they are a bright green color, firm to touch and look crisp and curve slightly at the narrow tip of the end. Choose stems that snap cleanly and don’t bend.

bhindi/okra/ladies' finger

Dal Fry

(Stew of Legumes in Hot Tempered Oil)

Dal, a hearty stew of pulses (dried legumes), is the staple food for millions in India and is made in every household almost everyday for lunch and dinner. Ranging from yellow and red to deep black, these tiny disc-shaped grains are a part of the legume family and are served at every meal with steamed rice or roti/chapati (Indian whole wheat breads).

5 daals in tadka daal

Tadka Dal or Dal Fry, a specialty of North India, is a simple everyday dish of dried split peas, beans or lentils. It is a full-flavored stew, seasoned with onion, garlic and spices fried in hot tempered oil. I like to cook different types of dals every time or simply combine a few together at once – it’s a great source of protein and quite easy to make.

My recipe combines 5 different dals - the bright yellow toor dal (split pigeon peas), split moong dal with green skin on (beans), red masoor dal (lentils), split urad dal with black skin (beans) and pale yellow split and skinnedmoong dal (beans). These pulses are the star of my creamy, luscious version of the tadka dal.

dals for tadka dal

I combine all the dals above with diced tomatoes and boil them in a pressure cooker to a thick stew-like consistency and then season it with a mixture of spices. The result is a slightly spicy stew with a mellowed aroma that is astonishingly good and hard to resist!

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Serves 4

scant ¼ cup moong dal

scant ¼ cup split urad dal with skin

scant ¼ cup masoor dal

scant ¼ cup split moong dal with skin

scant ¼ cuptoor dal

1 large tomato, diced

3 cups water

1-2 tbsp oil (canola, sunflower, corn, vegetable)

1 tsp turmeric powder (haldi)

1 pinch asafoetida (hing) (See concoctions 101 for more info)

½ tsp mustard seeds (rai/mori)

½ tsp cumin seeds (jeera)

2-3 dried red chillies

2 medium garlic cloves, smashed

1 medium onion, diced

salt, to taste

fresh cilantro/coriander, finely chopped for garnishing

Wash and drain the all dals in a stainless steel pressure cooker vessel. Add the water, diced tomato and salt and place it inside the pressure cooker. Cover the lid and bring the cooker to a full pressure, letting it whistle for 3-4 times, then reduce to low heat and simmer for 10 – 15 mins.

When the cooker cools down, remove the vessel and mash the cooked dal mixture using the back of the ladle, a potato masher or a whisk to a pulp-like consistency.

In a medium sized pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add mustard and cumin seeds along with turmeric, asafoetida, dried red chillies and smashed garlic cloves.

When the seeds splutter and the chillies and garlic are slightly fried (just about a min or so), add the onions and sauté for about 5 mins till the onion turns translucent.

Pour the mashed dal mixture into the pot, add water if you need to loosen it up a little and continue to simmer for 10 – 15 mins.

Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve hot.

* Dal fry can be served as a hearty soup for lunch or dinner.  If you make it thick, it can work as a warm dip that can be served along with naan or roti wedges or chips.

Jeera Rice with Dill

(Cumin scented Basmati Rice with Dill)

Instead of the plain steamed basmati rice, I often make Jeera Rice if I need a star to play the supporting role in my  dinner production along with vegetables and dals.  Its a tastier variation of the everyday rice from North India.  I add my personal touch to this dish by mixing in some fresh dill after cooking the cumin-scented rice.

cumin-dill

Dill is a delicately aromatic herb and adds a slightly lemony earthy flavor to the nutty basmati rice. Cumin, on the other hand, has a warm flavor and a strong aroma. Adding a few crescent-shaped cumin seeds while cooking the basmati rice causes its delicate fragrance to suddenly wake up. Just before serving, I like to stir in some finely chopped dill in to the rice. They add a nice green contrast to the off-white color of the rice kernels and the dark brown color of cumin seeds.

jeera chawalServes 2

1 cup of basmati rice

raw-basmati-rice

1½ cups water

3-4 tbsp tbsp oil (canola, sunflower, corn, vegetable) or ghee (clarified butter)

1-2 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)

4-5 green cardamom pods, crushed lightly to break the skin

2 cinnamon sticks, about 1 inch each

4-5 cloves

4-5 whole black pepper corn

2 bay leaves

1 medium garlic cloves, minced

1-2 green chillies, minced

1-2 stems of scallions or green/spring onions, finely chopped

salt

¼ cup fresh cilantro/coriander (dhania), finely chopped

½  cup fresh dill, finely chopped

Rinse the rice well under water and set aside. In a thick bottomed large pot with a lid over medium high heat, heat oil and add cumin seeds.

When they start to splutter, add garlic, scallions and green chillies along with  green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves,  pepper corns and bay leaves. Sauté for about a min or so till the garlic and scallions turn light brown.

Stir in the rice and fry uncovered for a few more minutes. Then add the water, season with salt  and  simmer covered until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is completely cooked (for 15-20 mins).

Turn the heat off and allow the rice to sit for 5 mins. Add the cilantro and dill and fluff with a fork to combine everything. Serve warm.

dill jeera rice

  • bergamot

    A nice twist to the regular jeera rice & dal.

  • Miranda

    All I can say is WOW! Beautiful recipes and pictures. Great post!!!

  • http://invitadoinviernoeng.blogspot.com/2009/10/arsenios-bica.html Miriam/The Winter Guest

    You see, your comfort zone is not my comfort zone at all… so it’s a good chance for me to learn!

  • http://www.windattack.com/ The Wind Attack

    I love, love, love bindhi! It’s my favorite vegetable in indian cooking and I always order it at Indian restaurants in an attempted to shatter the fears that many of my friends have about eating okra. I also get fresh okra at the farmer’s market often and to do stir fried okra.

    I love your whole feast here. Especially the dal fry! I’ll have to give that a try.

  • http://foodtravelbooksandmore.blogspot.com/ Vinaya

    Hi Vasanti,

    I came across your blog through random surfing..must say, you have lovely recipes and superb pictures! Also, I saw your intro post and almost laughed when I read about the Food Network bit…i have the exact same problem with the channel and my husband…he cant stand it and I can go on for hours at a time :D

    Keep up the good work,
    Cheers,
    Vinaya

  • http://traceysculinaryadventures.blogspot.com/ Tracey

    great website, lovely photos and a wonderful feast of Indian food!

  • Cristie

    I am a little afraid of Indian food….especially when it comes to curries at Indian restaurants. But this looks so good, doesn’t seem to be spicy curry-like food! Must give it another chance…this time by making it at home as per your recipes. Your spread looks very tempting!

  • Katie

    I really liked this post and all the homestyle Indian dishes. Didn’t know there’s more to Indian food that curries :P. Have to give it a try!

  • Family Cuisine

    Nice! Thank you for sharing.

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  • Dan

    It was too bad that Loren didn’t include any Indian dishes. I need to learn how to make good dal – will try this recipe.

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  • http://charchechaukeke.wordpress.com Nidhi

    Hey Vasanti,
    Tried out the daal and followed your instructions, turned out well. Loved your pictures by the way:-).

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