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Vietnamese fresh spring rolls (Vegetarian)

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Today’s Writing 101 exercise is to write about three important songs in my life and to be spontaneous and free-write. I found it hard to combine both these aspects and write about a food recipe that I had recently made. So, I planned to use the first part of the exercise and write spontaneously about a recipe I was most excited to share with you all – Vietnamese fresh rolls! Vietnamese cuisine is considered to be one of the healthiest foods in the world since they include a lot of fresh and leafy vegetables in their diet. The H and I would sure love to visit Vietnam some day. When I think of Vietnam, I think about this song Ding Ding Dong – Waipod Phetsuphan. Turns out that the song is actually Thai, but I like it anyway and can’t take the Vietnamese connection out of it, thanks to this wonderful Vietnamese coffee video that I watched a long time back (…and there’s my segway into the prompt for today – to link it to a song :P)

Yesterday, a couple of my friends and I had a picnic at a nearby park. One of my friend’s brought these rolls and they were an instant hit with all of us. Cool, light and refreshing, they were ideal to carry to a picnic. They can be prepared in advance when you have guests over or they can be made as an instant snack, once you have the basic ingredients, such as rice paper and rice noodles. These rolls traditionally use pork slices and shrimp but I’ve made the veggie version. You can get creative and stuff different kinds of veggies and sprouts and when you serve this along with a spicy peanut sauce, you will surely see happy faces. I made this today with whatever vegetables I had at home, so you might notice lettuce missing from them.

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The recipe:

Source – My friend, Shishira

Preparation time – 15 minutes

Assembly time – 2 minutes

Makes 4 rolls

Here’s what I used:

For the peanut sauce:

  • 3 tbsp peanuts
  • 1 tbsp red chili powder
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp roasted sesame oil
  • A few drops of lemon juice

 For the rolls:

  • A quarter portion of cucumber
  • 1 small carrot
  • A few strands of coriander/cilantro
  • A few mint leaves
  • A quarter portion of green bell pepper
  • A small block of tofu (I used paneer since I don’t like tofu)
  • A handful of rice vermicelli noodles
  • Rice paper sheets as required
  • 1 tbsp roasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce

How to make it

Peanut sauce:

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  1. In a small pan, a tsp of sesame oil and lightly roast the chopped garlic (You can skip this step if you like the flavor of raw garlic).
  2. Once the roasted garlic has cooled down, add all the ingredients together and blend until smooth adding a few tbsp of water to thin it to a dipping consistency.
  3. Taste the sauce and add honey, soy sauce or chili powder based your preference.

 

Fresh rolls:

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  1. Slice tofu/paneer into thick juliennes and sauté in a pan with a few drops of sesame oil.
  2. Take a pot and heat 1-2 cups of water. Once it is boiling, add the rice noodles and a pinch of salt and let it sit for 3-4 minutes or as instructed on the back of your pack of noodles. Strain the noodles and save the hot water.
  3. While the tofu/paneer is getting roasted, cut the cucumbers, carrots and bell peppers into juliennes, as shown in the picture.
  4. Wash and dry the cilantro and mint leaves.
  5. When the tofu/paneer is sufficiently roasted (3-4 minute), add a splash of soy sauce and remove from heat.
  6. Now, for the assembly. Pour the warm water left from the rice noodles into a wide-mouthed vessel. Remove a sheet of rice paper, dip it for 2-3 secs in the warm water and place the smooth side  down on your working surface. I used my cutting board.
  7. Place the cucumber followed by the rice noodles on top it, about 2 inches away from the edge of the rice paper. Follow this with the tofu, bell peppers and finally the carrots and the herbs.
  8. Roll tightly starting from the cucumber side and once you have rolled it in a couple of time, fold in the edges of the rice paper. Be gentle but firm with rice paper, otherwise it might tear apart or be too loose. Roll it all the way to the end until the other edge of the rice paper folds over the roll. I couldn’t take a picture as I did this. I was apprehensive, since this was my first time. But there are many great videos on YouTube, where you can learn from expert vietnamese cooks. 🙂 I liked this one.
  9. Cut the rolls in half before serving and serve with spicy peanut sauce. Yum!

Additional notes:

– Most peanut sauce recipes use hoisin sauce and store bought peanut butter, but I eliminated both of them and preferred to make something from scratch.

– Veggies that are normally used in these rolls include butter lettuce, mung sprouts and garlic chives. Authentic vietnamese rolls have a a few strands of fresh chive popping out right at the end of the roll. I would like to attempt that the next time I make these.

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Undiyu (Gujarati mixed vegetable curry)

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As part of Writing 101, our prompt today is to choose a place that we would like to be transported to. This could either be some place in the past or a place I would like to one-day visit in the future. I decided to pick a recipe from childhood, probably because nostalgia is such a strong thing. The recipe I’m sharing today is called Undhiyu. It’s a Gujarati vegetable curry consisting of interesting winter veggies from India. This dish is usually made during the winter months since it is quite a hearty dish or on special occasions (read guests coming over). I’ve always eaten Undhiyu when we used to visit my aunt’s family, who are Gujarati. My aunt’s mother used to make delicious Undhiyu, and serve it thali style, accompanied with thin and fluffy phulkas (a kind of Indian bread) and thick mango juice in a cup beside the bread. As I write this recipe, I think back about the fun afternoons we shared at my aunt’s, enjoying delicious food, playing in the park with my cousins and finishing it up with some fun card games. This recipe is requires some preparation, especially procuring different veggies that lend a unique take to this dish. Also, the traditional recipe is time consuming but I made pressure cooker version that helped cut down my cooking time. This was the first time I tried making this dish and I was very happy with the result. The H approached it gingerly, as he would with any unfamiliar dish, but he liked it as well, so I was happy with the experiment and the effort.

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The recipe:

Source – Bhavna Patel + my aunt

Preparation time – 30 minutes

Cooking time – 15 minutes

Serves – 4

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the muthiyas

  • 1 cup methi (fenugreek) leaves
  • ½ cup wheat flour
  • ¼ cup besan (chickpea flour)
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • A pinch of turmeric
  • A pinch of fruit salt
  • Salt to taste
  • A few tbsp oil to fry

For the masala

  • ½ cup chopped coriander
  • 6 green chillies
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 2 inch piece ginger
  • 3 tbsp sesame seeds
  • ½ cup crushed peanuts
  • 1 tbsp grated coconut
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp crushed jaggery or sugar
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil

Veggies

  • 1 cup tender Indian beans (surti papdi in Hindi, avarekalu in Kannada and mochaika in Tamil)
  • 1 cup cubed yams (I used purple yam like they traditionally do in Gujarat)
  • 6 baby eggplants
  • 2 baby potatoes
  • 1 cup green peas

For tempering

  • 1 tsp carom seeds
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil

How to make it

Undhiyu

Muthiyas

  1. Mix all the ingredients listed under ‘muthiyas’ above, using a little water if required to form a stiff dough.
  2. Break small balls and shape them into cylinders as shown in the picture.
  3. Shallow fry on medium flame until golden brown on the outside. Make sure not to have the oil too hot, to ensure the inside is cooked as well. Remove from the oil and pat dry on a paper towel.

Making the masala

  1. Grind the chillies, ginger and garlic into a coarse paste.
  2. Add it to the chopped coriander. Mix with all the other ingredients listed under ‘For the masala’.

Preparing the veggies

  1. Slit all the baby eggplants from the side up, keeping the top in tact. Do the same with the baby potatoes
  2. Now take some of the masala which you’ve just prepared, add a tbsp. besan to this and mix well.
  3. Use this to stuff the baby eggplants and potatoes and keep aside.
  4. Wash and peel most of the Indian beans. If using very tender Indian beans, you can add them in whole like I did.

Making the curry

  1. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pressure cooker. Once hot, add carom seeds and reduce the heat.
  2. Add the masala paste followed by the stuffed baby eggplants and baby potatoes
  3. Add the rest of the veggies and stir gently, making sure not to disturb the stuffed veggies.
  4. Add the fried muthiyas, which were prepared earlier.
  5. Add a cup or water and close the pressure cooker. Cook until you hear 3 whistles on medium heat (the Indian beans might take a little time to cook until tender).
  6. Open the cooker once it is cool. Mix everything together and give it a taste test.
  7. Serve hot with rotis or steamed rice. Garnish with chopped coriander.

Additional notes:

  1. My recipe is not traditional, since I did not use all the veggies that this dish normally calls for. Other veggies that can be added include sweet potatoes, regular yams, fresh tuvar beans and plantain and fresh garlic leaves.
  2. Undhiyu is traditionally served with cut pieces of ripe banana on top of the curry. But I’m not a big fan of banana, especially in savory dishes; hence I’ve eliminated this.
  3. This was my first attempt at Undhiyu and I did not want to stray too far away from the recipe and hence I fried the muthiyas. But I’ve been reading that it’s also possible to steam them. So the next time I will try that technique.
  4. I used frozen Indian beans and purple yams due to lack of fresh counterparts. But this helped to cut my preparation time. 🙂 If you area using fresh veggies, preparing and dicing some of the veggies might take slightly longer.

Why do I want to blog?

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I’m participating in wordpress’s Writing 101, a self driven course with support and guidance from editors at thedailypost and other bloggers out there. I hope this project will help me develop a habit of blogging regularly. Each morning we are provided with a prompt and a twist and we can use these to guide our post that day. Before starting today’s exercise I was very excited to see what the prompt and twist would be. But when the exercise at hand was to free-write for twenty minutes, I was a little disappointed. Firstly, it burst my bubble of what that stimulating prompt or twist would be; secondly, I have always had trouble writing or solving open-ended problems. I like to have a goal that I need to work towards. That’s much easier than not knowing what the goal is. But I decided to take up the challenge anyway since I didn’t want to give up so soon. As I started to write, I realized that this is a really useful exercise. I used my free writing time to explore why I want to blog and it has been useful to recall some key drivers for me to blog. Doing this at the beginning of this project has helped me strengthen the possibility to complete this blogging marathon.

If you do read this post and can relate to what I’ve written here or would like to share some of your experiences with me, I’ll be happy to read your comments and respond to them.

Here are my twenty minutes:

Why do I want to blog? There are thousands of blogs out there, all blogging about food, about Indian food too and a couple hundred about south Indian food. Then what is my motivation to blog? Will I be able to continue blogging if my inspiration and stimulus is from the outside alone? i.e. to receive more readers on my blog, or to make my blog a popular reference for south Indian cooking? My guess is that I would lose my enthusiasm to write very soon. That’s what has happened in the past. I need to reflect on my reasons to grow this blog. Not only does it give me a great tool to document all the recipes that I grew up eating, it will also help my sister, my cousins and many in my family who would like to learn some recipes that our family cooked while we were children. In addition to this, and more importantly, blogging provides me a great way to exercise discipline. Discipline to follow through something that I start, so as to make a habit out of it. Nothing great has every come out where the characteristics of discipline and constancy are missing. Having this at the back of my mind broadens the objective of my blog – from being a place to document and share recipes to something that is valuable to me since it helps me to cultivate the quality of discipline and perseverance. It also gives me a channel to use my creativity, both in the way I write and present the dishes that I make.

For any blog to sustain itself, there should be a steady source of inspiration. In my case, considering that is a food blog, this is the food that I cook for my family. So I hope that this blog also encourages me and pushes me to constantly cook healthy wholesome meals for my family. One thing I need to be careful of is my temptation to cook a lot of treats for myself, just so that I can blog about it. I want to develop this blog organically, using the dishes that I make on any odd day in my kitchen, rather than for it to be an outlet for restaurant–style special cooking. Not that there is anything wrong with restaurant food, which I really enjoy when cooked well. But I need to save such recipes for occasions that warrant such indulgence. I recently read a book by Michael Pollan about some rules for food. One rule that especially touched me was to save treats for special occasions. This simple yet profound axiom makes so much sense in my reality where it’s easy to make a habit out of eating outside. It’s easier to eat a dessert just because I feel like it, even though I haven’t really earned it. This makes me want to go back in time and embrace a simpler period in my life where treats and sweets were saved for special occasions such as birthdays or festivals; when my mother and other women of the household would cook up some delicious sweet treats. After reflecting on the consequences of eating out and eating out too often. I’m trying to practice a similar habit at home where I don’t make extravagant recipes requiring lots of special ingredients, deep frying etc. on just any regular day. I want to save these recipes for special days where I can plan ahead and wait to make them. I think that makes me appreciate the dish much more and value the end product. I think I digressed a little with this last point. But I needed to clarify this to myself, in order to have a strong reasoning to guide me as I progress through my posts.

If I had to summarize my objectives to blog and to blog regularly, it would be the following:

  • In order to document precious recipes from my family, both from my mother’s and grandmother’s generation (whenever I can)
  • In order to cultivate discipline through regular blogging
  • In order to hone my skills as a cook and get better at making simple home-style recipes

Maavinakaai Chitranna (Raw mango rice)

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Maavinakai chitranna

Maavinakai chitranna

Sharing a recipe after a hiatus of almost a year! Breaking the no-post bad spell with an authentic kannadiga recipe which I love. I made this today and shared it with a friend. Her son liked it so much that she decided to try it too. So for her benefit and hopefully others too, here’s the recipe.

The recipe:
Source – Mum
Cooking time – 20 mins
Serves – 2 – 3

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 medium sized raw mango (grated)
  • 4 tablespoon coconut (grated)
  • 3-4 dried red chillies
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 pinch of turmeric
  • 1 pinch of asafoetida (hing)
  • salt to taste

For seasoning

  • 1/4 tsp mustard
  • 1 tsp channa dal
  • 1 tsp urad dal
  • 1 dried red chilli (broken into bits)
  • 1 strand of curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp oil

How to make it:
1. Pressure cook rice with a pinch of salt and a few drops of oil. Use a little lesser water than you would normally so that the rice is not too mushy and soft.
2. While the rice is cooking, grind the coconut, dried chillies, mustard seeds, hing and turmeric into a fine paste with as little water as necessary.
3. Now, we need to prepare the seasoning – For this, to a heated pan, add 1 tbsp oil. Once it’s hot, reduce the flame to medium and add the mustard seeds; let it crackle. Then add the channa dal and let it turn reddish color. As it’s getting roasted add the urad dal, dried chili bits. Finally let the curry leaves in and let them splutter.
4. Pour in the ground mixture to the pan and stir it until the raw smell disappears (or around 5 minutes). Add salt to taste and turn of the stove.
5. As you wait for the mixture to get cooked, peel and grate the raw mango.
6. Add the raw mango to the mixture after turning off the stove. Add rice and mix well. Check for salt before serving.

Note:
– Fluff the rice a bit by cooling it on a plate or a wide bowl before mixing to ensure the rice doesn’t break or get mushy.
– If the raw mango isn’t very sour, you can add a bit of tamarind pulp water into the mixture as it cooks.
– You can make this rice with a variation using onions instead of raw mango – Thinly slice the onions and add to the ground mixture as it cooks in the pan and add tamarind water from a small lime sized ball of tamarind. Cook until most of the water evaporates.

Rasam (South Indian tomato and lentil soup)

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This is a basic recipe for the humble rasam. This lentil soup consisting of dal, tomato and spices is a must-have in tambram meals. It forms a part of the staple three course meal at the in-laws, the recipe being handed down from Paatima to MIL. I have borrowed this from Paatima, hoping to one day achieve the magic taste that her seasoned hands stir up everyday.

The recipe:

Source – Paatima

Cooking time – 30 minutes

Serves – 3 – 4

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1/3 cup dal (boiled or pressure cooked)
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes (roughly chopped)
  • 2 tbsp freshly sqeezed tamarind pulp or 1/2 tsp tamarind concentrate
  • 2 tsp rasam powder
  • A pinch of asafoetida (hing)
  • A pinch of pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 – 3 curry leaves (optional)
  • 2 – 3 coriander leaves (optional)
  • 1 tsp ghee (Great if you have it. If not, butter could be a substitute)
  • Salt to taste

How to make it:

  1. Take 2 – 3 cups of water in a pot. Add the chopped tomatoes, rasam powder, hing, tamarind pulp, corinder leaves, and salt. I skipped the coriander in my recipe because I didn’t have any today. Cook this mixture for 15 – 20 minutes.
  2. Lightly whisk the cooked dal with an egg-beater or a spoon to partially mash the dal.
  3. Pour the dal and a small pinch of pepper (optional) into the boiling tomato soup and adjust the level of water to achieve a thin soupy consistency. Continue to cook for 5 minutes. Taste check for your preferred level of salt and tanginess (tamarind). Once you’re happy, remove it from the stove.
  4. The final step is to season the rasam. Heat the ghee in a pan and add in the mustard seeds. Once they crackle, throw in a sprig of curry leaves and a pinch of hing. Season the rasam with this hot mixture.  (I used butter since I don’t store ghee at home. Butter provides the same taste like ghee, however the flipside is that it tends to burn more easily.)
  5. Serve hot with rice. You can also serve it by itself as a soup.

Note: Step 4 might seem like a trivial step that we sometimes feel like eliminating for the wont of time, and to let you all into a secret, I’ve done that a couple of times myself. But  I highly recommend that you go the whole hog and do this final step, especially if you’re making this for guests. 😉  May be its just an acquired sense of smell but the aroma from the ghee transforms this soup into a divine concoction and fills the place with a wonderful waft, bringing hungry stomachs to the dinner table. 🙂

Stir-Fried Cauliflower (South Indian Style)

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The H loves cauliflower and this is his all time favorite preparation. I learnt this dish from my MIL and had a request from my sister to share the secret with her. 🙂 Plus we were both craving for a simple no-frills lunch so I made this to go along with good old rasam.

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The recipe:

Source – MIL

Preparation time – 10 minutes

Cooking time – 15 minutes

Serves – 2 – 3

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Half portion of a Cauliflower (chopped into small to medium sized florets)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1/4 tsp mustard
  • 1/4 tsp urad dal
  • 2 dried chillies
  • 1 tsp sambar powder/chilli powder
  • A pinch of turmeric
  • A pinch of asafoetida (hing)
  • A few curry leaves (roughly torn)
  • Salt to taste

How to make it:

  1. Heat oil in a wok/kadai/non stick pan. I normally use olive oil for most of my cooking, unless the dish is very traditional and calls for a specific type of oil. You are welcome to use any oil you are most comfortable with.
  2. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard and wait for it to pop. Then add in the urad dal, dried chillies, hing, turmeric, and curry leaves in quick succession. Add the chopped onions and stir until they turn translucent.
  3. Add the chopped cauliflower bits. Follow up with the sambar/chilli powder and salt. Give it a good stir. Sprinkle a tbsp of water into the pan and cover with a lid. Cook on medium heat for 10 – 12 minutes, giving it an occasional stir.

You can stop cooking when it is still slightly crunchy or go the whole way. This can be served with rice or rotis. A couple of tips:

  • If you are new to the kitchen, make sure to always add the turmeric and hing JUST BEFORE adding the vegetables. They tend to burn easily otherwise, and you don’t want that.
  • I’ve started using sambar powder instead of  red chilli powder in a lot of south indian stir fries. I learnt this trick from the MIL again. Since the sambar powder also contains lentils in it, you can add this powder more generously without making the curry too spicy or burning the powder.