Haagalkai Gojju ~ Amma’s recipe

Bitter Gourd in a palate clearing sweet and spicy tamarind gravy – mom’s recipe

Haagalkai Gojju and oil

It was end of the 90’s and the beginning of my hostel days. The very first time that I was on my own, in a place far enough from home and certainly with no access to home food. Home sick I was, like hell. Except, once a month when Amma would come to see me. Religiously, I would look forward to the first week of the month, because I could get to see Amma, spend the special day catching up and end the day co-sleeping, sharing the same hostel bed, chatting away into the wee hours until we fell asleep before she left early the next morning.  Continue reading

Ellu Unde

Black Sesame seeds and Jaggery Laddoos

If there is a time of the year that I totally miss being in some place, it is got to be now and in Mysore! Wherever I am at this time of the year, golden memories of my Mysore childhood days beckon me. Just a mention of Mysore and my heart goes tender.

The festive fervor in the air, elephants trumpeting away in the palace grounds under the crimson red gulmohar trees, the smell of wet grass and elephant dung, churmuriwallahs along the footpath sides, the dazzling Mysore palace illuminated with its hundred thousand light bulbs and that moment when pigeons fly out into the sky as the lights go on, the regal grandeur of the ten day long celebrations, the tradtional Dasara procession, a most awaited Dasara exhibition and all the evening music kacheris (recitals) or quite simply the anticipation of it all before the season began. Priceless! I never knew those days would be priceless.

Wherever you are, whether you celebrate or not, a symbolic of the victory of good over evil, I Wish you a Happy Navraatri and a festive Dasara!

 

Dressed in pattu langa (traditional long silk skirts), hopping from house to house in the neighborhood, curious to see what’s new in their houses for Dasara Bombe Habba (a traditonal arrangement of dolls) and for “Bombe baagina”, a gift of sweets or savories for us visiting kids was perhaps the most exciting part of the festivities.

The lure of a different sweet or savory snack everyday for all of the ten days in every house visited was hard to resist for any kid of those days. Even if nothing was prepared, we were assured of at least small cubes of dark brown jaggery, never to return empty handed.

Speaking of sweet snacks, Ellu Unde is perhaps the most easily prepared sweet dishes. Two simple ingredients and less than 15 minutes is all it takes to put together these lovely black laddoos.

Yes, it is really as simple as it sounds when I said that. And it fits so well with the season too with fall in the air and winter soon waiting to knock at our doors with her cold, dry hands.

Reason is, per Ayurveda, sesame seeds are a heat generating food and hence good to be part of the cold season diet. Besides, jaggery is the best unrefined sugar with all its minerals not stripped apart. And so, Ellu Unde is considered a nourishing food for young girls at puberty and for women alike. Flax seeds can also be added for increased nutrition without compromising the taste.

Many a fond childhood memories of eating this sweet are ironically also from the Shraddha feast, as I would longingly look forward to snacking on these for days after. Ellu Unde was prepared at my grand dad’s home as one of the “Shraddha” foods, during the annual ritual to pay homage to one’s ancestors.

It is also prepared on Mahahalaya Amavasya, the new moon day on the Hindu calendar before Dasara begins and so I did.

Black sesame seeds are not exotic, but a commonly called for ingredient in many an Iyengar dishes, sweet or savory alike, Puliogre being the most popular.

If you have never tried black sesame seeds, their bold flavor can be a little bit of an acquired taste. One can start with white sesame seeds and progress to the black variety as you get comfortable. Black and white sesame seeds are two different varieties of sesame seed and have slightly different flavors. While the black variety is nuttier with a slight bitter afternote, white ones are milder.

How do you use black sesame seeds in your cooking?

 Ellu Unde Recipe

Printable Recipe

makes about 15 small laddoos

Things you’ll need:

1/4 cup Black sesame seeds

1/4 cup Jaggery (preferably dark brown), crushed

few drops of ghee ~ optional

How it’s done:

Dry roast black sesame seeds on medium heat until they appear plump and begin to crackle. Do not let them smoke or burn or they’ll turn bitter.

Tip roasted sesame seeds and crushed jaggery into a mixer/grinder. I find it works best to crush jaggery in a mortar & pestle or using a rolling pin.

Grind the mixture until it lumps up. If you pinch on it, it should hold shape. Remove onto a plate. Press and roll about one tsp of it at a time between your three fingers to make small laddoos. Add ghee if the mixture feels dry to hold shape.

Store in an airtight container. No need to refrigerate.

Note 

Use Jaggery and black sesame seeds in equal proportions, in case you want to scale the recipe up or down.

If the sesame seeds are old, they may not crackle.

Jaggery is available in most Indian grocery stores or world markets. Sucanat can be used as a good alternative. I wouldn’t use any kind of sugar though.

Ellu Unde is best consumed within a week of preparation or it can begin to taste rancid.


Treat yourself to more :

 

Mysore Saaru Podi

The South Indian staple Spice Mix

Ideally, this should have been one of my first few blog posts considering how staple Rasam or Saaru is in our household. Though there is a world of difference between Rasam and Saaru, for all practical purposes they are taken for granted and used interchangeably. A rule of thumb to distinguish the two is that Saaru always has cooked pigeon peas or Toor dal in it wheres Rasam is as watery as can be, made with just the lentil stock. Also, Saaru is very much a Karnataka food and Rasam typically of Tamilnadu.

Saaru is the very monicker of our quintessential everyday food. On most days, there’s Anna (rice), Saaru and everything else is prepared around those two basic pillars of our South Indian meal. A simple Anna-Saaru and a beans palya (green beans stir fry with fresh grated coconut) can make me feel at home wherever I am.

This recipe is from my grand dad’s kitchen and is always a yard stick of sorts for me. During my grand mother’s days, preparation of this Saaru Podi was a sacrosanct event for which, a good day on the Hindu calendar would be chosen. There were even forbidden days like Tuesdays and Fridays and times to avoid like dusk and dawn, most of most of which is followed in my grand dad’s house even today.

Also, as they say, there is a method to the madness, apparently, there is a particular order and method to follow to get the most flavorful Saaru Podi. If you read through the recipe, notice how the ingredients are paired and roasted in a particular order? Once I followed, I realized that there is some logic to it like Dhania and Curry leaves need just about the same time to be roasted and so do fenugreek and hing. Dry roast them any longer and they’ll burn. Who knew?

Saaru is something that becomes a topic of of our long distance conversations as well. You can imagine how even when she’s far away, Amma (mom) always checks on me to know if I make Saaru on a regular basis here. She says, Saaru has all the ingredients required for a good digestive and immune system and that eating Saaru everyday is like half the battle won in preventing cough, cold and other routine digestive problems. Right, she is. Saaru Podi has its roots in Ayurveda and every single ingredient truly has a medicinal property to boast of.

In all these years of marriage, I must have made this spice mix on my own, about twice at the max. I would always get a big stash from home and never really had the need to make one myself from scratch. Besides, in my mind, Rasam podi was always associated with a mental block that it is very difficult to make or it is super time consuming or that the one I made would never be good enough like my mom’s.

None of them are true, fortunately or unfortunately. I’ve realized that myself.

Making my own Saaru Podi has been a happy trip down the satisfaction lane and I would love to travel there as often as possible.

Nothing quite packs the punch much like a freshly ground home made spice mix.

So tell me, do you buy MTR Rasam powder or would you like to make your own?

Mysore Saaru Podi Recipe

Printable Recipe

Makes approx 300 gms

Things you’ll need:

About 2 cups Dried Red chillies (approx. 50-60) (ideally a mix of Byadagi and Guntur)

1 cup Coriander seeds / Dhania

1/4 cup Fenugreek /methi seeds

1/4 cup black peppercorn

1/4 cup cumin seeds / jeera

1-1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

2 pieces, about 1inch each, cinnamon

about 1 cup Curry leaves, loosely packed

1/4 tsp good quality asafoetida / hing (I use SSP)

1/2 tsp ghee

1 tsp oil

other:

Spcie grinder

How it’s done:

Heat oil in a kadai or wok and roast the red chillies on low-medium heat. Use two ladles and roast by lifting the chillies from the sides until they are very hot to the touch. Let the chillies not burn or the chilli fumes will take over the kitchen. Spread on a plate and keep aside.

Add coriander seeds and curry leaves immediately into the kadai and dry roast on medium heat until curry leaves are wilted and so dry that they crumble when pinched, but still retain their green color. Remove these onto the red chillies itself so the chillies are kept warm enough to be ground.

Add ghee to the kadai followed by black peppercorns and roast on medium heat until the spluttering frequency reduces but does not stop. Remove on to the plate.

Add fenugreek seeds and hing and dry roast on medium heat until fenugreek seeds turn golden brown. Any more roasting will turn them very bitter. Remove on to the plate.

Add cumin seeds and cinnamon and dry roast on medium heat until flavorful and the spluttering frequency reduces but does not stop. Remove on to the plate.

Lastly, dry roast mustard seeds till they begin to splutter. Remove on to the plate.

Grind all the roasted ingredients on the plate in a spice grinder or any Indian mixie (dry jar) until finely powdered. Let the jar cool before opening. Transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool dry place.

Notes

Use a mixture of mild and hot varieties of red chilli like Guntur(hot) and Byadagi (mild). Read more notes on this in Bisibelebath recipe

AVOID dry roasting all ingredients together as it results in uneven roasting or burning of ingredients.

If you wish to make a smaller batch, a 4:1 ratio should work well between coriander seeds and cumin, fenugreek and black pepper. Adjust proportion for the other ingredients accordingly.

Avoid dry roasting red chillies or they’ll emanate pungent, choking fumes.

If you feel the spice mix turned out to be short of red chillies or doesn’t taste hot enough, you can always adjust by roasting some extra chillies, grind to a fine powder and grind once again together with the Podi to get it all mixed well.

If you happen to make Rasam only once in a while, then consider storing it in the freezer. That way, the spice mix will retain all of its flavor without tasting like just wood husk.

SSP brand hing is available in Bangalore – Mysore areas as far as I know. LG brand is available even in the US.


Treat yourself to more :

Karuveppelai Chutney Podi

Curry Leaf Spice Mix

If you ask me to pick one herb that is my most favorite, without even thinking or blinking I’d most likely say “Curry Leaf” and perhaps I might answer that in my sleep as well. Quite confident on that. And ever since I started blogging, I am getting to know myself at a whole new level and I am really liking it. As, never before did I have this depth of realization or inkling about my affinity for Curry Leaf, surprisingly enough.

Until recently, I had not shed a thought on turning Curry Leaf into a spice mix, though spice mix has never been an alien concept to me. No idea why I did not think of making it before, but I am happy I did now.

Podi(s) (means powder) or spice mix(es) in plain English are an integral part of South Indian meals, coming in such versatile variations that the same name could stand for a range of myriad ingredient permutations and combinations, depending upon where you are in the neighborhood/locality or town/city or state, even differing from house to house. The reason I say this is, my aunt and my mom make it in two different ways and they are sisters. You get the idea, right?

I am sharing both versions today, in case you have that question popping up.

Karuveppelai (in tamil) meaning “a black Neem leaf” (yes, of the Neem tree), in spite of being a key seasoning ingredient in South Indian food, is most often discarded because most people either don’t know that it needs to be eaten (let’s face it!) or they do not like to chew on a dark leaf (dark truth) or may be they don’t quite like it when some random leaf takes them by surprise in their mouth. In fact, I was quite shocked to read in an Indian cookbook (don’t remember the name, luckily for the author!), when curry leaf was listed among spices/herbs that need to be discarded before serving/eating. Anyways, whatever the reason, the net result is, a chlorophyll and nutrient rich herb that is so good for health, never gets eaten, forget about being assimilated et al.

While I was trying to gather my thoughts on this topic, it became vividly clear to my mind the necessity or the origin of this chutney podi. This is for all those of you, who use Curry Leaf as a mere flavor enhancer to only chuck it out of your plate at mealtime. This chutney podi ensures that you actually ingest all the good qualities of the curry leaf well beyond its aroma, enjoying its taste equally.

Five ideas for Karuveppelai Chutney Podi:

For the uninitiated (and there’s no shame in that!) here are five ways to use this Podi:

  1. Mix it with hot steaming rice, white or brown anything will do or even broken wheat,  optionally with a quaint dollop of ghee. Eat it as your first morsel, it is heavenly.
  2. Serve a generous portion on your plate, make a well in the center and mix it with a good oil of your choice – olive oil, sesame oil or peanut oil will do. Savor it accompanied with Dosa, Idli, chapati and the like. There’s no need for chutney!
  3. Make Rasam substituting this chutney podi with Rasam powder. I have done it and it tastes wonderful.
  4. Add to curries to enhance taste and flavor.
  5. This one is slightly unconventional. Add to pasta or noodles as a seasoning for a special South Indian twist. *wink*

And, if you have a Curry Leaf plant at home, you might find these Tips to care for your Curry Leaf Plant in winter quite useful.

KARUVEPPELAI CHUTNEY PODI RECIPE

My aunt’s recipe

Printable Recipe
Things you’ll need:
  • 1 heaped cup Curry leaves, washed and towel dried
  • 1/4 cup toor dal / pigeon peas
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 8 dried red chillies (byadagi or any mild heat variety)
  • 1/8 tsp asafoetida / hing
  • about 1 tsp size seeded dried tamarind
  • about 10, 1 inch long 1 cm thick dried coconut (Kobri) slices
  • 1 tsp grated or crushed jaggery
  • 1 tsp peanut oil
  • salt

How it’s done: 

Heat oil in a skillet or cast iron kadai over medium heat. When oilis hot enough or shimmering, sauté tamarind until dark and crisp, without burning it and strain it onto a plate.
To the same oil, add black pepper and sauté until it just begins to crackle; strain onto the plate. In the remaining oil, sauté red chillies and curry leaves until crisp and aromatic. If it starts to smoke, you would have burnt it. Remove onto the plate.
Add toor dal and hing and dry roast until dal tuns light brown and opaque; remove onto the plate. Make sure to scrape out all the residual hing. Lastly, dry roast dry coconut (Cobri) pieces until light brown. This step removes any residual moisture from it and adds to the shelf life of the spice mix. Remove onto a separate plate. Let all roasted ingredients cool before grinding.
In a spice grinder or Indian mixer/grinder, grind the roasted spices adding salt, jaggery and roasted coconut pieces halfway. Do not grind it too fine, ground coffee consistency is just right.

Notes

Version II (My mom’s recipe)

All other ingredients being the same,
  • in place of toor dal, use three equal portions of toor dal, bengal gram /chana dal and black gram / urad dal to make 1/4 cup
  • 1/4 cup coriander seeds (dhania)

How to identify byadagi chillies? They are crinkly as opposed to their smooth high heat counterparts, contorted more than straight and orange-red colored rather than a deep red. You are most likely to find them in an Indian grocery store.

Curry leaves dry up soon when stored in the refrigerator. If you have curry leaves that are dried up to begin with, do not wash them. Just wipe them with a dry cloth and use. When dried curry leaves are washed, they almost instantly lose aroma and tend to mold easily.

And because, they don’t store well in the refrigerator for long, as soon as you bring them, wash, towel dry and microwave in 30 sec intervals on a plate until crumbly crisp. Store in an airtight container when cooled. Though this method is not the best at preserving its aroma, it is certainly better than having none at all.

Do not dry roast red chillies without at least a drop of oil ever, unless you want your kitchen to be filled with pungently stinging and almost choking chilli fumes.

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