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cooking therapy

Its been quite a while since my last post!  Well, after a fun-filled Summer and Fall at home with my family, I’m now busy working in the clouds ;)

I’m back to work and it’s so much fun as I get to taste a little bit of San Francisco everyday! Even if it is for a few minutes, I try to step out for lunch and explore the foodie hot spots in downtown area. There are such amazing places to eat around my office building and then my favorite place in the foodie city, the Ferry Building, is just a hop, skip and a jump away :) . On balmy SF afternoons, I get out and join in the hustle-bustle of the farmers’ market or go strolling inside the building, getting inspirations and relishing the flavors of the marketplace.

Life’s certainly busier than ever before and I just haven’t had time to write about my signature concoctions lately. But, that doesn’t mean I have stopped cooking and clicking! When I’m done with work, I look forward to coming home and getting me some “cooking therapy” . I guess it’s my passion for cooking that makes it such a relaxing and therapeutic activity for me to do at the end of the day. And it also gives me a great sense of satisfaction to have fed my family with fresh, home-cooked food everyday.

In the last few weeks, I have been making my go-to jhatpat subzis or some weeknight quickies, primarily staying in my comfort zone. And then there were the other days when my creative juices were overflowing  and I made concoctions like pasta with shrimp, grape tomatoes and baby spinach in a light wine sauce, a hearty pasta dish with fresh, clean flavors or spicy lentils with steamed brown basmati rice, a traditional Maharashtrian dish packed with proteins and carbohydrates that will leave you feeling re-energized at the end of the day and finally, baked masala fish packets, a full and delicious meal that’s done in a little pouch, making the clean up easier that ever.

These dishes are a great way to treat yourself after long hours at work – weeknight wonders that are ready in minutes and completely satisfying! Try making one of these and enjoy the therapeutic experience of cooking.

Read on … »

black magic

I can’t really go without Indian (or Maharashtrian) food for too long. After a week or two, I start craving for the aromatic masalas, roasted cumin, fried mustard seeds, cilantro, ginger, garlic, green chillies, coconut…..I can go on and on….guess it’s natural since I am an Indian. Spices are the cornerstone of Indian cooking and it is the perfect blending of spices that gives Indian food its subtly magical flavors, aromas and textures. One such skillfully blended spice mix is the Goda or Kala Masala from Maharashtra, India’s mid-western coastal state.

It is this classic “black” spice mix that gives Marathi food a “magical” flavor. This dark brown, spicy- sweet masala is the base of most of Maharashtrian vegetarian and non-vegetarian recipes, just like the popular Indian Garam Masala. What makes the Kala or Goda masala unique is the use of rustic ingredients and the method of individually roasting and grinding an array of spices that are mixed in to make a dark aromatic blend.

Every family has their own version of the recipe and so does mine. While I have access to the creator of my family’s recipe a.k.a. my grandmother, I have never ever ventured into the labor intensive process of making my masala since I get my annual supply from her or my mom. I usually store it in the refrigerator and use it to recreate the flavors of home-cooked food, I had growing up.  It’s hard to find this particular spice mix in the grocery stores outside India, however, if you made a trip there you can bring back a packet from any local manufacturer in any city of Maharashtra or go for the most-trusted commercial brand that would be available all over the country. Now, if you want to conquer the world of Marathi cuisine and master the masala-making technique, have a cup of tea with one of my fellow bloggers, Anita and get the low down from her. Her recipe is a close match to my family’s. But if you’re just not up to it and would still like to enjoy the deliciousness of this traditional masala, here are some awesomely lazy and lazier versions that seem to work as well.

Today I’m sharing a couple of typical dishes that are made in Marathi households using the spicemix. Enjoy these authentic flavors or try using the masala as rub on the meat for your next bbq, sprinkle it over chicken or fish before grilling or roasting them or in your next batch of rice for something completely different.

Chincha Gulachi Amti

(Maharashtrian Sweet & Sour Stew of Lentils)

The Kala or Goda masala is a key ingredient in everyday Maharashtrian food, especially in the amti, a very basic lentil stew. This daily dal is delicately spicy and gets it’s characteristic sweet and sour flavor from jaggery (i.e. unrefined /palm sugar) and tamarind. My mom makes different versions of this amti by adding diced baby eggplants, onions or cut drumsticks and they all taste delicious. For me, and a lot of the Marathi folks out there, amti-bhaat (i.e. lentil stew over steamed rice) is the most comforting comfort food in the whole world!

Serves 4

½ cup toor daal

1½ cups water (See ratios and proportions)

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

½  tsp mustard seeds (rai/mori)

1 tsp turmeric powder (haldi)

1-2 pinches asofoetida (hing)

½  tsp red chilli powder or cayenne pepper

1½ tsp Maharashtrian Goda/Kala Masala

1 tbsp sugar/jaggery (See Concoctions 101)

1 tbsp tamarind paste

salt, to taste

fresh cilantro/coriander, finely chopped for garnishing

Wash and drain the toor daal in a stainless steel pressure cooker vessel. Add the water, turmeric, asofoetida, 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. Toor daal needs more cooking time as its a little tougher as compared to other daals. When the cooker cools down, remove the vessel and mash the cooked daal using the back of the ladle or a whisk to a pulp-like consistency.

Heat oil in a medium pot and add mustard seeds along with turmeric and pinch of asofoetida. When the seeds splutter, pour in the mashed daal and stir gently to combine. Rinse the vessel in which daal was cooked and mashed with water and add this water (up to 2 cups) to the pot to dilute the mixture.

Season with salt, goda/kala masala, red chilli powder, jaggery and tamarind paste. Mix well and bring it to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom.

Garnish with cilantro and serve hot over steamed rice.

Bharli Dodki

(Stuffed Ridge Gourds)

The bharli vangi i.e. stuffed baby eggplants or bhoplyachi bhaji are a few of the popular Maharashtrian curries that have the goda/kala masala as a key ingredient. While I often make the two curries, I like this particular one made by stuffing chunks of ridge gourd (a.k.a Dodka/Toorai/ Turia/ Chinese Okra) with a mixture of crushed roasted peanuts, powdered jaggery, cayenne pepper and of course, the goda /kala masala. Ridge gourd has a subtle flavor and get’s spiced up in this spicy-sweet curry. It goes well with hot rotis or over steamed basmati rice.

Like many Maharashtrian home chefs, my mom uses the gourd to make the curry and then instead of discarding it’s peeled ridges, she uses them to make a lip-smacking chutney along with sesame seeds, dried grated coconut and spices. It’s a wonderful way to make the best out of waste and works great as a condiment on the side.

While I am not a big fan of the chutney made with the tough, dry ridges of the gourd, I simply love its curried form. I often like get Chinese Okra from the Asian stores here, in the US and with my abysmal jar of the masala (thanks to my mom and grand mom who never let it run out!), I recreate the flavors of this rustic curry in my home, far away from home.

Serves 2

2 medium-sized ridge gourds (Dodki / Chinese Okra), ridges peeled, ends discarded and cut into 2-inch long chunks with slits

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

½ tsp mustard seeds (rai/mori)

½ tsp cumin seeds (jeera)

1 tsp turmeric powder

1-2 pinches asofoetida

about 3-4 cups of water

The Stuffing Mix

1 tsp red chilli powder (use 1/2 tsp if you don’t like it that hot)

1-2 tbsp Maharashtrian Goda/Kala Masala (Some Indian stores in the US carry this masala. If you just can’t find it, you can use the regular Garam Masala)

¼ cup crushed jaggery

¼ cup roasted peanut powder (coarsely grounded) (See concoctions101)

salt

Combine the ingredients for the stuffing and stuff the chunks of the gourd by opening the slit and filling the mix in it.

Heat oil in a deep sauté pan or kadhai with lid (use some kind vessel with a lid). Add mustard and cumin seeds along with the turmeric powder and pinch of aesofoetida.

When the seeds splutter, add the stuffed gourds and sauté for a min. Add water, mix well and cook covered for 15-20 mins on medium high heat, stirring once in a while and uncovered for 15-20 mins more, till the water evaporates and results in a thicker curry/gravy.

Serve hot with rotis or steamed rice.

constant cravings

The recipes that I am sharing today reflect the characteristic “Brahmin” cooking style from my native state in India – Maharashtra. The traditional cooking emphasizes on creating uncomplicated dishes in which the veggies or legumes are delicately spiced and cooked by using simple methods like sautéing or braising. I believe it is these culinary techniques that preserve the true flavor of the food and give this cuisine it’s intricate flavors, intoxicating aromas and succulent textures of home-style Indian food.

Being a Maharashtrian, it’s no surprise that these and many such authentic dishes are on the list of my “constant cravings”. Time and again, I find myself cooking this food and relishing every bite of it!

Mix ‘n’ match or pair them with steamed basmati rice or any kind of Indian breads for a well-balanced meal!

Read on … »

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