Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mystic India: Ganesha Chathurti

'Vakratunda Mahaakaaya Suryakoti Samaprabha Nirvighnam Kurumedeva Sarva Karyeshu Sarvada'

Mum and dad always taught me to say this little prayer - I've said it before the much feared exams, before I walked into the mantap on my wedding day, before we boarded our first flight overseas...and a million other times, and I know the power of this simple sanskrit shloka (hymn/prayer). It fills me with an immense calm, gives me confidence and spills in an abundance of positive feelings.

The endearing elephant God Ganesha has been my protector, my guide and my confidant. I have the greatest faith in Him. And on this special day, Ganesha Chathurti, I wanted to cook Him a special meal, as He loves to eat!
(You can read some interesting stories at Wikipedia)

Here's what was on the menu -

karjikai/kadubu (sweet)
modak/kozhakatai (sweet)
semiya payasa (sweet porridge)
vadai (deep fried urad dal patties)
ambode (deep fried chana dal patties)
hesarubele kosambri (salad)
kadale usli/sundal (spiced chickpeas)
vangibath (spicy rice with vegetables)
rasam/saaru (lentil soup)
beans palya (mildly flavoured beans)

I am not posting all recipes today simply because there were too many things! I will, however, share the recipe for my favourite, and I'm quite sure, Ganesha's too :)

Karjikai - it's sweet, it's crispy and it's filled with sugary goodness!

  • 2 cups fine semolina (chiroti rava)
  • 1 cup plain flour (maida)
  • 2 tbspn ghee (clarified butter)
  • a pinch of salt and turmeric
  • oil/ghee for deep frying
For the filling -
  • 1 cup grated coconut - use fresh coconut for best results, but you could use desiccated coconut as a substitute
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup mixed nuts - sultanas/raisins, cashews, almonds and pistachio, lightly fried in a tspn of ghee
  • 1 tbspn roasted poppy seeds
  • 1/4 tspn cardamom powder
  1. In a bowl combine all the ingredients for the filling and set aside.
  2. In another large bowl, combine semolina, flour, salt and turmeric and rub in 2 tbspns of ghee.
  3. Using water, knead into a stiff dough. Be careful not to use too much water.
  4. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and set aside for about 5 mins.
  5. Heat oil/ghee in a wok/kadai on medium flame.
  6. Take small portions of the dough, roll, fill with a spoonful of the filling, fold over into a crescent and seal the edge by pressing with a fork.
  7. Deep fry until lightly brown.
Being several miles away from home, we missed our families, and the excitement and laughter of the festival. But we did our best to recreate the mood here - prayers, good food and friends to share it with, after all, that's what most Indian festivals are all about, a celebration of life!

So, I end my post with a sincere prayer -

"Oh Lord Ganesha, please bless us and watch over us at all times.
Shower the world with peace, good health, happiness and prosperity..."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Aloo-Gobi-Matar with Palak

At times, M & I think there's nothing better than a warm home cooked meal. Just the simple dal, rice and veggies combo, nothing more comforting and fulfilling. Well, yeah, there might be, but I also said 'at times' :-)

Anyways, I made this easy and simple sabji (a vegetable side dish), the all time favourite and much cliched 'Aloo-Gobi'. I also threw in a bit of green peas and a bunch of fresh spinach and, voila, a healthy serve of veggies and greens for lunch.

  • 2 medium sized potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets
  • 1/2 cup green peas
  • 1 bunch spinach ( I used baby spinach, you can use any variety)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • a tspn each of crushed ginger and garlic
  • for tempering - 1/2 tspn each of mustard seeds and jeera (cumin), and a pinch of hing (asafoteida)
  • for seasoning - turmeric powder, red chilli powder, jeera powder, salt (suit your taste)
  • 1 tbspn oil
  • fresh green coriander/cilantro, chopped
  1. Microwave the veggies and spinach till cooked.
  2. Crackle mustard seeds and jeera in hot oil and add hing.
  3. Now toss in the chopped onions and ginger & garlic and saute till onions are soft.
  4. Transfer cooked veggies and spinach and toss it all together.
  5. Add all the spices and mix gently.
  6. Garnish with chopped coriander.
  7. Serve hot with rice, dal and yogurt.
When the burgers, pizza and pasta don't appeal anymore, come home to this!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Paw Paw Salad

I'm a vegetarian (yes, I'm proud of it!!) and I have now adapted to the Aussie food scene, quite well I must say. If it's Thai, then there are the veg. green and red curries; if it is burgers, then there is the classic veggie burger option; Italian, hmm well, veg.pasta or pizza; Chinese there's veg. fried rice or Singapore noodles...see? I don't have to starve I can still eat out :) Anyways, there are a few good things that happen because I'm vegetarian (and have limited options) and one such thing was the Paw Paw Salad I had in one of the colourful markets in Darwin and oh! I was in love with it! Fresh, simple flavours and so light, (mmmm) it is an absolute delight. Although, it does give your body that boost of heat ('cos of the green paw paw/papaya and chillies), so make sure you balance it off with something cooling, like cucumbers or buttermilk or coconut water, whatever (or some chilled beer, as M would say!)

I'm not quite sure if paw paw and papaya are the same. It was my first and I really loved it. I haven't tried it at home yet, but I'm sure I will soon. But here's how the lady at the stall made it-

In a big(gish) wooden mortar and pestle, she threw in a handful of roasted peanuts, a few fresh chillies (she asked me how hot I wanted it and believe me I said 'medium', but it was more than my scale of 'medium'!), a few slices of tomato, some salt and lemon juice. Then she lightly crushed everything before adding thinly sliced raw paw paw. She then tossed it all together, scooped it into a container and handed it to a drooling me! And as local musicians sang and played the guitar, I couldn't wait to dig into the heaped box of freshness. It was a complete market feel - the music, the waft of hot food from the stalls, the crunch and the spice of my salad and some crispy pakoras to go with it (and of course, M by my side!).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lose it or Lose it?!

So I've been very irritable and low and depressed lately...I've entered a phase where I don't have anything to do, don't have anywhere to go and all I do is eat, slump on the sofa and watch F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Well, what have I to lose? Quite a bit, in fact! (err, the kilos, you got that, right??) I've not been feeling good about myself - I feel bloated, lazy and annoyed. I tried pushing away the blues by emotional eating and only made it worse. Many slices of cake, packets of chips and blocks of chocolate later, I finally regained my senses. I had to stop myself, I had to, had to, had to. And then I remembered The GM diet I'd heard about. If you don't already know what I'm talking about, you can read it here. (I'm vegetarian, hence the variant).

So, a seven-day diet, huh? I can do it, yes I can. And the carrot (hehe) is '5-6 kgs weight loss', wow!
Now, this I need! I was all set, hopped up on the excitement of losing those extra kilos. Ask M, he'll tell you what I'm exactly like when I'm excited about something new, I must go all overboard. Anyways, Day 1 of the diet is 'FRUITS'. We went to the Rapid Creek Sunday Markets yesterday and I was all thrilled looking at the tropical fruits they were selling there. M, as supportive as ever, carried the bags bulging with a musk melon, a honeydew melon and half a watermelon as I looked through the other stalls. (He got a relaxing massage for himself, so...)

Anyways, today is Day 1 of my diet programme. It's all the fruit I can eat. I'm doing well so far, although I did sidestep a little, I had a cup of coffee, oopsie! But, hey, that's probably because I was watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S (well, what's new?) and they were all at the coffeehouse and I was so tempted. Man, they spend way too much time drinking coffee and I blame it on them! Well, never mind, I've been good otherwise. Fruit for brekky, mid morning snack and lunch, so far so good. I am enjoying it as well (see picture and you'll see why - doesn't my plate look yummilicious??) I've started the climb to the healthy food pyramid, one tiny (fruit)step at a time...

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I kind of figured there may be others out there who have been in my shoes before and thought this might be a bit of an encouraging nudge :-)
Plus, knowing that I have all of you saying 'you go girl!' (you will, right?) I have that extra push to get along my promising seven days ahead :-)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mystic India

Upakarma - Avani Avittam

oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tat savitur vareṇyaṃ
bhargo devasya dhīmahi
dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt
This is one of the ancient Vedic rituals practised in India even today. The event is conducted once a year, around August - September. The main activity performed in an Upakarma is the changing of the Yagnopavita or the Holy Thread. (source: Wikipedia)

Well, we're in Darwin at the moment, we could call it 'being away from home'. I have not located the Indian store here yet. But I had this unexpected urge to cook a festival meal which resulted in Project Puje Lunch with Limited Resources! M did not have a new Janivaaram (Holy Thread) here, but he chanted the Gayatri Mantra and although we did not light a lamp or offer flowers, I had my little conversation with God as I cooked. It went like this - "We offer to you all the special things I'm cooking today. We are thankful to you for giving us so much and we're able to cook this meal because of your love and blessings. Please watch over us at all times and be there for us. Err, hope you enjoy the payasam."

The usual festival menu has payasam (sweet porridge), lemon rice and vada (kannada households have ambode while tamil households have vadas) and on festivals that involve a puje (a prayer ceremony that involves offerings such as flowers, sweets, and fruits) no onion or garlic is used in the cooking. Today, I made all the three and some curd rice as well.

So, here's my Project Puje Lunch with Limited Resources -

Cracked wheat/Bourgal Payasam

  1. cracked wheat, 1/2 cup (soaked for about an hour)
  2. 2 tspns ghee
  3. 2 tbspns sultanas/raisins and cashews
  4. 1 medium tin condensed milk (I used a 400g tin, skimmed version)
  5. 1 tbspn sugar (optional)
  6. 1/4 cup milk
  7. 2 tbspns dessicated coconut
  8. a pinch of cardamom powder
In a microwave bowl, heat the ghee on HIGH for about a minute.

Add sultanas and cashews and cook on HIGH for 40secs.

Add soaked and drained cracked wheat, pour in the milk and stir well. Cook on HIGH for about 2mins.

Stir in the condensed milk, sugar, coconut and cardamom powder and mix well. Cook on HIGH for about 2mins.

Serve either hot or chilled. Add milk to alter consistency before serving.

Now, ideally I would've used fresh grated coconut and jaggery (molasses) instead of sugar and condensed milk. But you know my situation, don't ya?

Lemon Rice aka Chitranna / Elimicha Saadam

  1. 1 cup cooked long grain/basmati rice
  2. juice of one lemon
  3. 3-4 fresh green/red chillies, slit
  4. a piece of ginger, grated
  5. for tempering - mustard seeds, chana dal, urad dal, jeera and a pinch of hing
  6. 1 tbspn peanuts
  7. 3 tbspns dessicated coconut
  8. some chopped coriander/cilantro
  9. 1 tbspn oil
  10. 1/2 tspn turmeric powder
  11. salt to taste and a pinch of sugar
Heat oil in a wok/pot and add the ingredients for tempering.

Add chillies and ginger and saute for a few seconds before adding the peanuts. Wait until the peanuts are slightly roasted.

Add dessicated coconut, turmeric powder, salt and a pinch of sugar.

Take off the heat and add the lemon juice and chopped coriander and mix it all well.

Add the rice and gently give it a good mix. Lemon rice is ready to serve.
Again, I would've normally used fresh coconut. By the way, fresh coconut is very much available here in Darwin, but I wasn't enterprising enough to devise a way to break it open and grate it :-) I don't have a hammer and I don't have a food processor here either! And oh, yes, if not for the puje, a whole lot of chopped onion makes this recipe even better.

Now, about the vadas- yes they are the ones that look like doughnuts :-) It is quite a tedious process, at least for an amateur like me. I would struggle with it, even if I had everything that the recipe demanded. But fortunately for me, my brain was in standby mode and I had a packet of instant dosa mix which was a clever substitute, phew that was close! So the vadas were made with minimum fuss and tasted great by the way. In fact, I'm thinking 'dosa mix it is' every time I want to make vadas, or better still I could actually get an instant vada mix, ha (think slapping myself on the head!).

Anyways, that was my story and the moral of the story (as M put it) "where there is a will, there is a way!"

Monday, August 3, 2009

McHomemade Burger!

A healthy alternative, really. I came across a recipe for sweet potato cakes on It's a 'sweet' video, one of the many wonderful food episodes she has churned out. Take a look when you have some time, they're amazing!
Anyways, keeping Aarti's recipe as a base, I tweaked around a little bit and made a burger meal out of it, easy peasy. Now, whenever we feel like a burger, I just whip this up in a jiffy and with some Coke and wedges/chips on the side, we can have the whole 'go-out-and-grab-a-burger' experience right at home!

Here's how I adapted the recipe, mainly to suit what I had at home :-) You can do the same too, just stick to the base ingredient, say sweet potato or regular potatoes, and get innovative with the add-ins.

  • sweet potato, 1 medium size
  • 1/2 cup whole green moong sprouts
  • 2 tbspn wheat bran
  • 2 tbspn all purpose flour/gram flour/wholemeal flour -whatever you have, just to bind it all together
  • ginger, garlic, fresh chillies, fresh coriander/cilantro - ground to a paste, as per taste
  • salt to taste & a pinch of sugar
  • oil
  • slices of onion, tomato, cucumber (any salad really) to serve the burger
  • burger rolls
  1. Cook the sweet potato until soft (I microwaved mine) and peel it once it cools down.
  2. In a large bowl, put in the sweet potato and mash it with a fork/potato masher.
  3. To this add all other ingredients and combine until it all comes together and holds well. (I also microwaved the sprouts for just a bit)
  4. Shape into patties and shallow fry until crisp and brown on a heated skillet.
  5. Sandwich between sliced burger rolls and serve with ketchup and chips.
I made this again this week and this time I used corn instead of sprouts. You could even use chickpeas as the base ingredient if you're looking to add some protein to the meal. Throw in a slice of cheese to add that extra bit of flavour. I mean, the options are endless, I even added a fried egg to M's burger. So, it's all about getting your act together. End of the day, make it yourself at home and gorge on one of these babies, guilt free!


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