Pahalakkai Poricha Kootu

Bitter Gourd rings simmered in freshly ground coconut, black pepper, tamarind gravy

Pahalakkai Poricha Kootu

I think about this all the time.

An Apple Pie or a Tiramisu, say a Chocolate pots de crème – people need no introduction on any of these dishes, let alone ask for ingredients. A mention of the dish is pretty much enough to lure anyone to grab and taste. This is true for many of us, isn’t it? How often does someone totally new to a dish from another cuisine get drawn to and motivated to cook it without a clue about its taste, especially when it is a typical traditional dish never seen in any restaurant?

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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

Green Beans and Carrot Puzhi Kootu

Green Beans and Carrot in a freshly ground South Indian coconut masala gravy

Puzhi kootu rice papad

As a young girl, I was always curious about the goings-on in the kitchen. Hovering around my dear aunt, the then head chef in my grand dad’s kitchen was one of my favorite pastimes. Over the years, whether it was for my keen interest or my unsolicited opinions, somewhat naturally, I had earned a say in vital decisions such as the daily menu. Vegetables would be brought fresh for the next day, the evening before, in a green tarpaulin bag. Plastic had no place then. And in the morning, before leaving for school, I would dash to the kitchen to see what’s cooking for lunch. Whenever it was green beans, there were only two ways I would love them, either in a simple stir fry with freshly grated coconut or an elaborately prepared gravy in the form of this lip smacking traditional South Indian dish. This was the recipe I wanted to learn to make first, whenever I would start cooking on my own.

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Watercress Gobi Paanch Phoron

Watercress and Caulifower in Bengali five spices

It was twenty years back. She must’ve been sixty something at that time. Yet, her body as slender as string beans and skin, shiny as a new leaf. Even at that age, her barely salt and pepper hair, still lustrous and thick as a jungle, came flowing down to her thighs.

Every time I think of what greens can do, weirdest of all, an automatic mental flashback picture of her, greedily devouring a bowl of steamed greens daily, hits me. For whatever reasons I might not have liked my paternal grandmother much growing up, I’ve always liked my greens.

Ever since I’ve lived away from home, with my love for greens, I’ve lived on an overdose of spinach, fenugreek, dill and the occasional Amaranth (when I get lucky). No offence to any of those, I still love them enough to enjoy them in a host of dishes like Palak Pappu, Swiss Dal Paanch Phoron, Nalgari Aloo Palak or Methi Pudina Pachadi. Every once in a while whenever I felt the urge to break free from the “greens rut”, I gladly embraced one new-to-me green after another, swiss chard, red chard, mustard greens, beet greens or even kale, but yet to warm up to a lot many. Like for instance, the watercress.

Though I’ve known for sometime that this unpretentious and most often unnoticeable in the grocery stores “Watercress” is a potent cancer fighting and asthma curing medicinal super food, even my ever-so-presumed-to-be broad palette found its “grassy-ness” overpowering enough to quit after the first couple of buys.

This time, I wasn’t ready to quit. Albeit, I could somehow hold my nose and gulp it down (exaggerating of course), I had to get it through to him and my little obnoxious food critic. Cauliflower and any broccoli look-a-like is my little girl’s favorite and paanch phoron happens to be mine lately. So, there was little to risk, after all.

Her verdict after the first bite, “I love this spinach, Amma

You think I corrected her?

I said to myself, batting my eyelids, “yes my dear, ‘this spinach’ is called watercress

{ Having used up the bunch, so this is all I had to shoot }

I’m told that most typical watercress bunches available in stores are likely to be harvested from around streams, their natural habitat. But, on a lucky day or at a whole foods market, one might find a delicate living version of this green with roots intact in a tiny blob of soil, sitting pretty in a bloated plastic package, carrying a nifty name hydroponic watercress”.

I was indeed super thrilled when I bought this dainty thing one time, but honestly, I’d prefer the hollow stems, thick dark green leaves of the conventionally grown, any day, even if it is bruised by handling.

Watercress apparently is called Jal Kumbhi in Hindi. I’d like to think I have seen quite a few greens other than the routine spinach and methi, but don’t know for what reason, I have no memory of encountering this green ever in India.

If you know what it is called in Kannada, I’m curious to know..

Also, how do you cook Watercress?

Watercress Gobi Paanch Phoron Recipe

Printable Recipe

Things you’ll need:

small head of cauliflower, washed and broken into florets
2 large carrots, peeled (optional) and diced
3-4 fingerling potatoes or one medium potato, unpeeled, diced
1 bunch of watercress
2 green chillies, broken in half, seeds removed
1 tbsp paanch phoron
1/4 tsp ground cumin / jeera powder
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
red chilli powder or cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 tsp amchur / dry mango powder ~ optional
1 tbsp pure peanut oil or any cooking oil
sea salt

How it’s done:

Wash watercress bunch well in a large bowl of water with a tsp of baking soda. Rinse well in few more changes of water. Drain well and pinch off the leaf sprigs (as seen in the picture above) leaving out the thicker stalk. Delicate stem can be used chopped.

Make sure that cauliflower florets are well drained.

Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat. when the oil is hot enough or shimmering, add paanch phoron. When the seeds start crackling, add green chilli halves, cumin powder, quickly followed by turmeric and and sauté until green chillies show white spots. Add diced potatoes, carrots and cauliflower florets and sauté for a bit. Cook covered until carrots and potatoes are semi soft.

Add watercress leaves, salt, red chilli powder, amchur and give it a good stir. Cook covered for a few more minutes until the watercress leaves are wilted and check if veggies are cooked.

Serve hot with chapathi, roti, rice of your choice.

Notes

To make paanch phoron yourself, just mix equal portions of white mustard, fenugreek, fennel, nigella and cumin seeds.

If you have plants, just spread the shredded watercress stalks and carrot peels into the pot instead of discarding. I re-purposed them for my curry leaf plant.

Treat yourself to more: