Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The relentless march of time - roasted eggplant and Avocado dip

There used to be a time when I would turn my nose up at many dishes my mom cooked and refuse to eat any of her "experimental cooking".   My most hated dish was my sister's favourite, Mulangi (radish) Sambhar and Kathirikkai (eggplant) curry.   Every time she made the dish, my mom would recall, I once said it looked like cockroach sabji.  Yet she still made it and ate it.
BTW in what seems like another lifetime, DH used to cook for his room mates in his UT Austin days.  Once he made something and the girl eating it found a cockroach in it!  She put it out and continued eating.  Are graduate students really that starved?  I certainly wasn't.   And I never ate his cooking in those days because he was still a meat eater.  The vegetarianism started in our engagement period.   (Coincidentally. I take no credit for it.  He is pig headed and probably makes it a point of morality to not take my advice. I am going to enjoy the repercussions of this statement.  Akin to asking when did you stop hitting your wife :)  Thank God for small mercies!
Coming back to my mom, I would throw a tantrum every time she jazzed up traditional foods - bournvita in mysore pak, onions in nipattu, peas in arisi upma, the list is endless because she devoured recipes in any magazine.  And then when cable came along, the tamil channels.  She was a good cook with an extensive repertoire, and a fairly good instinct for what would work.  And I was Gautham :)
Karma bit me strongly in the butt.  Gau complains about most things I make, he does not approve of making anything healthier - whole wheat pizzas, whole grain muffins, multi-grain granola are all met with disapproving gazes and all the snark his fairly incisive tongue can muster.  There is never an appreciation for the sheer variety of things I cook for him.  I was certainly more loyal than that and enjoyed throughly most of whatever mom made.  The health nut phase, when I complained about the sweet/salt/oil in everything she made, started only after I realised how dangerous her diabetes was.   Then it was justified!
The only eggplant dish I tolerated is Baingan Ka Barta, roasted pureed eggplants cooked with onion+tomato+garam masala.  I proceeded to try it at home - it used to be a superhit amongst my Housemates in my UT Austin days; I remember Thai spooning the mashed eggplant even before I added my gravy and spices!  Gau and DH dislike it.  I tried the middle eastern versions with yogurt/ with tomato garlic lemon.  Still no go.  I tried deep-fried eggplant bajji. Shockingly no-go!
For my nth trial, I chopped the eggplant, added salt and olive oil, roasted it in the oven until it acquired a darker hue  and kinda shrivelled up - about 20 minutes.  Then I blended it coarsely with green avocado, lemon juice and pepper.  I finally fried shallots, garlic, tomato  and added it to the blend.  Then I added some herbs, Basil from my terrace (I am such a show off ;) ,  coriander from my farmers basket.  Bingo! DH loves it. Gau thinks it is ok.  I served it rolled up with some scrambled egg in a roti.  He finished his lunch box, no remnants.  It must have been more than OK.

  1. 2 medium sized eggplants chopped and roasted at 375 deg C for about 20 min
  2. 1 medium sized avocado peeled and chopped.
  3. 1 lemon juiced
  4. 10 shallots peeled and chopped
  5. 1 tomato chopped
  6. 2 garlic pods
  7. 1 + 1 tbspoon olive oil
  8. 5 - 6 basil leaves
  9. 3-4 sprigs of coriander

Blend 1 -3 with a tbspoon of oil
Heat oil in a pan, add the garlic shallot and fry until slightly browned
Add tomatoes and salute until softened.
Mix the blend with the fried ingredients.
Serve as a dip or a topping for bruschetta or a filling for a roti roll.  Always top with a little extra virgin olive oil.

BTW, I stopped complaining so much only after I had Gau.  I was grateful to have someone take care of me, cook to my desires.

PS:  Why this strange combination of ingredients in Chennai, India?  Both were impulse organic store purchases.  Avocado is usually popular at home, lot of eating at the Spoonbill and Don Pepe.  I just moved eggplant into its sphere of influence.
eggplant+avocado dip 

Friday, October 23, 2015

An Equal Music

Every Saraswathi Puja, we place books at the Goddess feet and pray her grace allows us to learn, understand, appreciate better.  It is usually anything and everything - Ash elementary Hindi letters, Gau phy/chem/math, Tao and the art of watercolour and finally "A Southern Music" by TMK.  I opened the TMK book randomly and came upon a page where he talks about how to define classical music, how delineating folk and classical music is a form of oligarchy (Some Harvard prof said that. That brings me to a news article I read yesterday, more on that later).  It felt drier than my thesis and I closed the book.
Today morning the Friday supplement headlines read "An Equal Music", a conversation with L Subramanian and Kavitha Krishnamurthy about an upcoming concert in Music Academy.  The title niggled and it dawned on me that it was the title of a Vikram Seth novel, a love affair between a pianist and a violinist.  I ruminated over my memory of the story for a while, remembering the catholic guilt felt by the heroine, just like the one in the Graham Greene novel (End of an affair)  and how it is surprisingly not prevalent in hinduism.  Meenakshi from A Suitable Boy doesn't feel any guilt as far as I can recall.   Then I was thinking over how Vikram Seth was so much more interesting than Rushdie and how his craft sublimates the usual melodrama of loves gained and lost.  Then for a fleeting moment, I thought how equal music could apply to the commonality of all musical experience, karnatic/folk/western.  It is perhaps the listener who imbues intense feelings to music, music like math just IS. Like GEB (Godel Escher and Bach, a book I never really finished or understood, if any of you do get it, I will be your disciple :)  suggests, the mechanisms underlying a system which encodes "knowledge" about the system gives rise to the identity of the system. It becomes an independent entity, not just something created by the creator.

So my thesis with its borrowed physiological simulator, added sensors and actuators could with the addition of some intelligent programming become a self sustaining  system with identity, i.e. a "I" like one of us? That brings me to how we are probably an experiment/simulator concocted by Mice and Dolphins probably as suggested by the inimitable Douglas Adams in HHGTG.  Books are awesome, aren't they?  They help your thoughts ramble and carry you far far away.

 I still had the folk music, classical music dichotomy in my mind when I came to this gem:
Emi Sethura Linga

I can't believe I have never heard these before! And how great is the violin subbing for a ektaara?  It is so rare to find songs on Lord Shiva by BMK.  Joy in the singing and joy in the listening.  Doesn't he look very pleased at the end of the song?

I get why Bharati says "Sundara Telugu"  Really.  I do.  Listening to BMK sing anything.

I have this fantasy at times that man kind will come to a point where they become immortal after a fashion - take best moment's of a life and play it over and over.  Take away the sense of deja vu so that you don't realise you are an infinite repeat mode.  The awe of the first time I listened to this song would feature on my playlist - it was the perfect setting hubby at work, Gau in school, Ash asleep me working and listening to music and the skies about to burst forth with monsoon rains any moment.

Speaking of absurdities, my friend, one with whom I shared this link, noticed the concert is held in AKG centre, name after the famous COMMUNIST leader A K Gopalan.

I needed one more fix of this beautiful music and I come to the next gem:

Ninu vidisiyundalenayya

And no, I didn't forget my PhD.  My macbook stood in for all my research papers, and thesis.  It was also in the puja.

And IMHO, folk music focuses on the lyrics, classical music, could focus on anything from the lyrics to technical talent of the musician.

I have just started to have organic vegetables delivered home, D2D Organics.  becoming a self-determining system, the decision to cook organic forces me to cook healthier too - they gave me a bunch of murugakeerai, hard to cook and difficult to force feed.   I used the last 1/3 cup of millet I had left over with raw rice and dals and a good 3 fistfuls of murugakeerai to make Adai for dinner.  Friday evening wd have been toast and maggi otherwise.  Maggi is back!  I don't make maggi more than once a month, but all the governments inept actions, perversely makes me want to make it frequently

  1. 1/3 cup millet
  2. 1/2 cup rice
  3. 2 red chillies
  4. 1 green chilly
  5. 1/2 cup toor daal
  6. 1/2 cup chana daal
  7. 1/4 cup moong
  8. 1 cup murungai leaves, washed, destemmed and chopped.
  9. Salt to taste
  10. Oil for making adai
  11. Lots of finely chopped onions/shallots/spring onions (optional)
  12. Grated coconut (optional)

Soak 1-2 for 1 hour
Grind 1-4 to a paste.
Grind 5-7 to a paste
Mix the two batter add salt and the greens.
Heat a cast iron pan.
Make thin crepes with the batter on medium heat
Serve hot with grated jaggery or mileage podi.


adai with milagaipodi

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Saraswathi Puja!

Saraswathi Puja is probably the only one of the 9 days of Navaratri, when I do everything as per tradition, which is basically whatever Mom did.  Except for the music.  My mother always left the morning music to my dad, Though she hummed all day, I am hard pressed to remember times when she chose the music, any music, at any time of the day.  Odd right?  Especially considering she always sang with intense feeling. 

I started the day with Lalitha Panchaksaram,  Kanakadhara Stothram and then finally Shyamala Dandakam written by Mahakavi Kalidasa.  Playing Shyamala Dandakam pleases me as much as singing along to the other two compositions by Adi Shankaracharya. Isn't it great that we sing a prayer written atleast 1500 years ago by the court poet of a famous Gupta King?  (Vikramaditya / Chandragupta II)  He was part of the golden period in Indian history when our cultural and scientific output was at an all time high. Gau is so frustrated studying history and gets confused between the Mauryas and the Guptas.  I have always loved history.  I had wanted to study English Literature / History, somehow I am still doing engineering.  He (Kalidasa) is probably the only poet that I know of, who was utterly devoted to the Goddess, she was his Ishta Devi.  Most saints/poets seem to prefer Rama, Krishna, Devi (Parvati),  Muruga, Ganesha and Shiva in that order. 

My link choice for Shyamala Dandakam is dictated by the perfect pronunciation, not the musical quality.   

One of the songs I used to teach Ash tamil alphabets, agara mudala ezhuthellam is from the tamil movie Saraswathi Sabatham.  They way the first thirukkural has been fitted into the pallavi is so clever no?  This song on Saraswathi is one to which Ash  hums along.

There is an abundance of songs in praise of the Goddess, my favourite was the first Keertane I learn on Saraswathi - Mamavathu in Hindola Raaga. and then Sri Saraswathi Namostute in Aarabhi. My choices are dictated purely by my ability to sing these songs.

My mother would make black chana sundal, paruppu payasam, paruppu vadai and appam.  She would also say sojji appam is more traditional.  I have attempted sojji appam before - it is basically a deep fried, small sized daal poli -  and the covering turned a little chewy instead of crisp, I wanted an easier alternative this time and a google search popped up Suyyam.  I generally have a tough time deep frying things, but, throwing caution to the winds, I decided this would be what I make.  This recipe is more about how to fix blunders in making purnam (the sweet filling) than actually making suyyam.

My day had started at 3.30 AM, after 2.5 hours of revising code for a visit to CMC Vellore, I finally soaked the sole cup of chana dal I had to make the sweet filling. Then the blunders started.  I decided to cook the kala chana and the chana daal together in my futura - the pressure cooker I bought because it is a work of art and engineering.  I poured the kala chana into the cooker directly and placed the soaked chana dal in a bowl on the kala chana. 5 minutes of cooking and 15 minutes of cooling later, my dal looked a little watery.  I got distracted and forgot to drain the dal, my second blunder.  When I returned to cooking an hour or two later the dal had absorbed all the water.  I decided to make the purnam by blending the dal, powdered jaggery and coconut together, the third and final blunder.  I ended up with something between a kheer (too thick) and a kesari (too thin).  I toyed with the idea of offering just the purnam as neivedyam.  Then I decided I must fix it.  I poured the purnam into a pan on medium heat, added 2 tbspoons of ghee, 1/4 cup more coconut and started frying the mix to make it thick.  AFter 5 minutes, I started adding 1 tbspoon of rice flour until the mix started thickening.  I must have used about 4 tbspoon.  I continued frying until the mix left the sides of the pan.  I then set the pan in a bowl of cold water to cool.  After cooling I made marble sized balls from the purnam.  Mixed turmeric 1/3 cup rice flour and 1/3 cup APF to make a batter.  I decided on the water level by dipping the purnam ball in - coat completely but no pooling.  Then deep fried and done!  The recipe is detailed in Subbu's Kitchen.  My changes were a 1/3 more jaggery and 1/4 cup rice flour to the purnam.

Kala Chana Sundal
1 cup kala chana soaked overnight
1 side of a green mango
1/2 cup freshly grated coconut

2 red chillies
1 tspoon mustard
1 tspoon jeera
1/4 tspoon hing

Pressure cook the kala chana until soft, drain
Add 1 slice of grated green mango (1 side), 1/2 cup of coconut to the cooked Kaala Chana.  
Heat oil add  mustard, once it pops add  jeera, red chillies and hing. 

 Very sattvik.

Seyyam Filling:

1 cup chana  dal (husked split chickpeas basically) soaked for 2 hours
 1 1/3 cup brown sugar (jaggery powdered)
1/2 cup coconut
1 tsp powdered cardamom
Seyyam Covering
1/3 cup APF
1/3 cup rice flour
1 tspoon turmeric powder
Pinch of salt.
Oil/Clarified butter to deep fry.  I used Sunflower oil

1/4 cup rice flour (optional, if filling is loose)
2 tbspoon butter/clarified butter, ditto

Soak and cook the chana so that it is just cooked through, not mushy.  Drain any excess water.
Blend the chana and the jaggery together.
Fold in the  coconut and the cardamom.
Roll into 1" sized balls.

Mix the flour together, add water slowly while mixing until you get a pancake like batter.

Batter should be thick enough to just cover the filling, not let the brown filling show

Did each ball in batter and deepfry on medium heat.

Drain and serve.

Every Puja, I look for some sign, that the Gods are generally pleased with my efforts.  It could be anything from a perfectly made prasadam to an inexplicable feeling of contentment.  Today it was the perfect tasting, rescued suyyam.  My stress free coding changes also helped :)

I am adding this post to Lisa's Vegetarian Kitchen's My Legume Love Affair roundup for the month of Oct 2015.  This is the 88th round!   Seyyam is deepfried sweet lentils, Sundal is a salad of black chickpeas.

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