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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A Nice Cool Weather Casserole

While in lower altitude Arizona where we live now doesn't begin to compare to the frigid weather up north, it is still nice to have something warming on a cool day, and this casserole does the trick.

This recipe for Beef & Sauerkraut Casserole (or "Tushena Kapusta," as it was given to me) is an homage to a wonderful Ukrainian lady named Oksana, who was kind enough to make it for us. While her methods spoke of the "old country," it was easy enough to update and make in my own fashion. Apparently, many of the foods that came down to me from the paternal side of my family, are similar, if not identical to much of the food in the Ukraine (and most of that whole large region). 


Beef and Sauerkraut Casserole or Tushena Kapusta
Beef and Sauerkraut Casserole or Tushena Kapusta
My paternal grandparents came over to the U.S. from what was Yugoslavia in the very early 1900s. The town they came from is in what is today northern Serbia, in Vojvodina. It is a very small town named Kucur, northwest-ish of Novi Sad, and not found on many maps. That whole area was overrun so many times, changing "ownership," and the languages overlapped as well as food style. 

This dish is made with beef, sauerkraut and cabbage. Apparently it can be made with all sauerkraut and no fresh cabbage, or all fresh cabbage and no sauerkraut. However it is made, it comes out the most delicious comfort food. Just set out some good bread and butter to accompany, and there you have it: one fine meal. That said, as I looked up Tushena Kapusta recipes out of curiosity, I found that there is every variation imaginable for the meat (beef, pork, chicken, duck, Kielbasa sausage), and some are meatless. The remaining ingredients are the same, allowing for slight differences in amounts, and sometimes people add a touch of sour cream. 


Beef and Sauerkraut Casserole or Tushena Kapusta
Beef and Sauerkraut Casserole or Tushena Kapusta
Oksana worked with no recipe, of course, and gauged everything by eye. When I set about recreating for myself what she did, I wrote down everything I did and made note of all the amounts, so I could share it here. While seasoning the meat, she asked for a few different dried herbs, in an effort to replicate a seasoning mix she used back home. I chose to replace her herbs with my Beef & Pork Seasoning, as it had some of the items she used, plus those flavors go excellently with beef and pork. I added dried and reconstituted shiitake mushrooms, though I do not believe she used mushrooms in her dish. She did many things two different ways while making her recipe, things I could see no earthly reason for doing. These I changed to make things easier, less time-consuming. 

All in all, the recipe came out close enough to hers that I have no qualms about posting, revised though it is. To me, it tastes nearly identical. For certain, it is simply delicious, mouthwatering, comfort food.


Beef & Sauerkraut Casserole

(Tushena Kapusta) 
Beef and Sauerkraut Casserole or Tushena Kapusta
Beef and Sauerkraut Casserole or Tushena Kapusta


Serves 4 to 6

4 cups / 10 ounces thinly sliced green cabbage
½ teaspoon salt
-----
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
-----
1½ cups shredded (large holed grater) carrot, divided
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips about 1½-inches long
1 (32 ounce) jar sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
-----
2 slices (thick-slice) bacon, or 3 if thin sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced then quarter the round slices
¼ teaspoon salt
-----
1 pound beef stew meat, in ¾-inch cubes
1½ teaspoons Beef & Pork Seasoning or Montreal Steak Seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly grated pepper
1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 ounces tomato paste
2 bay leaves

Set the prepared cabbage into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with the ½-teaspoon salt and mix with hands, squeezing and rubbing the cabbage vigorously, or pound with the flat part of a meat tenderizing mallet. This breaks down cell walls in the cabbage and helps release liquid. This dish is a dry style casserole. Set the cabbage aside to release more liquids for at least 15 minutes.

Place the dry shiitake mushrooms into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Use a plate to help keep them submerged and set aside while preparing the rest of the dish.

Drain the sauerkraut and rinse under running water, then set to drain well.

Set the cubed beef into a bowl and sprinkle with the Beef & Pork Seasoning, ½-teaspoon salt and pepper. Toss well to coat. Set aside.

Cut the bacon slices into ¼-inch bits and place in a large skillet or simply use the Dutch oven to be used to bake the casserole. Cook the bacon until crisp, then set the bacon onto paper toweling to drain and set aside. In the resultant bacon grease, fry the onion with the ¼-teaspoon of salt until tender, then add in half the shredded carrot and cook just until softened.


Everything mixed together in bowl
Everything mixed together in bowl
Drain the cabbage well, squeezing to extract moisture, and return to the mixing bowl. Add in the fried onion and carrot mixture (reserving any remaining bacon grease in the pan) with the remaining raw carrots, red bell pepper and drained sauerkraut. Drain the mushrooms, remove hard stems, then slice the mushrooms and add to the mixing bowl. Add in the brown sugar, tomato paste and paprika and stir well.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the same skillet, adding more oil only if needed, quickly sear a few of the meat pieces at a time, never over-crowding the pan, until browned, then place the pieces of meat into the mixing bowl with the vegetables as they are browned. Once all the meat is browned, stir all the ingredients well (photo at left), then turn into an oven-safe casserole or Dutch oven with lid, slip in the bay leaves, submerging into the mixture. Cover the casserole and bake the casserole for 30 to 45 minutes, checking to ensure it is not scorching on the bottom. Add hot water only if absolutely needed to prevent burning. 

Serve this casserole with mashed potatoes or rice and with bread and butter on the side.


My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

And Yet Another Chutney to Add to the List

Nariyal Chutney or Coconut Chutney
Nariyal Chutney or Coconut Chutney
Okay, technically this one isn't new in the sense that I already have one called Nariyal Chutney or Coconut Chutney. There is never only one way to make a dish!

At the time I first attempted making a coconut chutney, I was living in South Dakota. Having an Indian Grocery store (or even an Indian restaurant) was only a fond wish, the closest being in Sioux Falls, 3½ hours away. Yes, the local grocery did have "fresh" coconuts. Heaven only knew how fresh that may have been. I also had no desire to make a huge mess trying to open up a coconut and work at scraping the "meat" out. And so it happened that when I finally decided to give Coconut Chutney a try, I opted to use grated, dry, unsweetened coconut. 

To be clear, to date, I had not ever even LIKED coconut chutney. No matter where I had tried it, no matter how many times, it was always just bland and blah. And this is just ridiculous, because I LOVE coconut! 

I plowed ahead with making a chutney from the dry coconut, soaking it first in an effort to bring it back to some semblance of fresh. Not. Didn't happen. I read countless coconut chutney recipes before even starting to cobble together my own recipe, and while most said to use fresh coconut for best results, they also stated that dried could be used. 

My resulting chutney was okay. Maybe better than the ones I'd eaten in Indian restaurants, but still not something great. I figured that since at least it tasted better than anything I had eaten to date, that it was good enough to post in my blog. But. I hadn't gone back to try it again. It was uninspiring. I think, if ever I did go back and use dried coconut, I might alter a couple of things. For example, I only had a jalapeno pepper in the fridge at the time so that went in. And the chutney was greenish. Not an awful thing, for sure, though not at all like all the pretty photos of pristine white chutney I had seen online. Later on I read that using a thinner fleshed green chili pepper is wiser, as it adds less green color.
Nariyal Chutney II
Nariyal (Coconut) Chutney II

Altogether, while that chutney was okay in a pinch, now, with an Indian grocery far more accessible, and with fresh grated coconut in the frozen section, I figured I might just have to rethink the whole idea.


Not too many changes . . .

Truly, once I got down to looking at the recipe I had originally created, and despite re-reading probably 15 or more different blogs on coconut chutney, I couldn't come up with much to change. The biggest change was fresh (albeit frozen) coconut. That alone would make a huge difference. The use of a small Serrano chili instead of a big, fleshy Jalapeno  also made a huge difference. Other changes were small, such as using a little more tamarind concentrate than previously. 

The one, possibly biggest difference was the use of shallot. While most coconut chutney recipes online use no onion or garlic, apparently the Keralan people generally do use onion, and sometimes garlic as well. They do use it raw, however, and raw onion is generally not so good for my stomach. I opted to saute the onion only until softened, about 5 minutes. This was just enough. 

These small changes, along with the main one of using frozen fresh coconut, made such a huge difference in the outcome of this coconut chutney. It was magnificent. Here were the flavors I was wishing for. This one is finally worth making. If you have access to fresh, or frozen fresh coconut, I highly suggest this recipe!


A Note on Tamarind

I do use tamarind in this chutney. Some recipes call for it, and some do not. Some prefer to use lemon or lime juice as a souring agent instead, but I am a big tamarind fan! I am finding that with store bought tamarind, the viscosity of each brand varies widely. I had been using "Swad" brand Tamarind concentrate, with a viscosity similar to what I make if starting out with fresh tamarind pods, soaking and working from there. Recently I bought a different brand at this huge Patel's grocery, and upon opening this "Ashoka" brand, it was very markedly thicker. Not as thick as the "Tamicon" brand paste (that is difficult to even dissolve, it is so pasty), but possibly double the thickness of the "Swad" brand. I used two teaspoons of this thicker "Ashoka" brand in this recipe. All three of these brands term the product to be "Tamarind Concentrate." 


Nariyal Chutney II

(Using Frozen Fresh Grated Coconut)
Nariyal or Coconut Chutney II
Nariyal or Coconut Chutney II


Makes about 1¼ cups

¾ cup fresh grated coconut, or frozen (thawed) fresh grated coconut
⅔ to ¾ cup warm water
1 Serrano or Thai chili (remove seeds for less heat)
2 - 3 thin slices fresh, peeled ginger
2 teaspoons tamarind puree/concentrate
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
2 teaspoons chana dal/Desi Chickpeas
1 very small shallot, or about 1 tablespoon, chopped

TEMPERING:
1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
⅛ teaspoon asafetida
2 dried red chilies, whole
8 - 10 fresh (or frozen fresh) curry leaves

Measure out the fresh grated coconut or the frozen and thawed fresh grated coconut and place in a blender container. Add in the warm water, starting with the smaller amount first, only adding more once your preferred consistency is determined, at end of mixing. Add in the chili, lightly chopped, whether without seeds, ginger slices, tamarind puree/concentrate and salt. Set aside.

Heat a small skillet and add in the oil to heat, then add the chana dal. Stirring constantly, toast the dal to a golden color, then add these to the blender container. In the same pan (adding more oil only if needed) saute the shallot for about 5 minutes, stirring, so as not to brown, and cook only until translucent and softened. Add the shallot to the blender and blend the mixture smooth. Pour into a bowl for serving.

For the Tempering, use the same small skillet and the tablespoon of neutral oil. Add in the mustard seeds and, stirring, once these begin to pop and splutter, add in the asafetida and stir for a few seconds until the lovely onion-like aroma is present. Add the dried whole red chilies and toss until they begin to puff and change color, then add the curry leaves and toss until their lovely aroma is apparent. Immediately pour this mixture over top of the chutney and serve. This chutney is great with any south Indian dish, and an absolute must with Idli or Dosa.


My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Couple of Chutnies

A couple of months or so ago, I made some Indian chutnies that were new; at least new to me. One, made with tomatoes, was one I had tried in a restaurant, though I was not impressed with its flavor. The other was a new style totally, being a savory mango chutney made with green mangoes. 

Here in the U.S., most grocery stores will not be carrying mangoes as green as what this mango chutney calls for, as the hope would be for the large pit to not yet have become hardened. I had to make do with mangoes that were green enough to be mostly hard, but nowhere near the greenness that would have made this chutney more authentic. Still, it was good enough. Can't complain.

And then the holidays hit.


Idli with Sambar and Chutnies
Idli with Sambar and Chutnies
I completely forgot about these chutnies and they were sort of lost in the shuffle of things during that time of guests and frantic cooking activity. I had some of those two chutnies left, in the fridge, but I had yet to post the recipes here. And then I made Idli, to share with a visiting friend. These Idli, despite this being the very first time that the batter fermented and doubled overnight (which had me so ecstatic I had to run and share this event with my husband!) for some unknown reason just did not work well making the Idli. Instead of lovely little puffy pillows, the first batch came out flat and mostly melted into the steaming water! So I went from ecstasy to agony in less than half an hour. Eventually I got some to come out, though not my best efforts, to date!

It was with the Idli that I wanted to serve little bowls of different chutnies, and both these two chutnies were on the plate (shown in the photo above) - just not yet here on my blog. 

The Tomato Chutney, or Tamatar ki Chatni, is pretty simple to make. It has a few ingredients not in everyone's household, so be warned. Particularly now, with access to a great Indian grocery, I have the ability to keep things in stock. Things such as Urad Dal, Chana Dal, curry leaves, asafetida or even tamarind concentrate. I have been using Swad's brand of tamarind concentrate with great success (it can be found on Amazon, here). Tomatoes and shallots, the bulk of the recipe, are available in most any U.S. grocery. The Indian chili powder can be substituted with cayenne, as per your preference. 
Tamatar ki Chatni or Tomato Chutney
Tamatar ki Chatni or Tomato Chutney


Tamatar ki Chatni

Tamatar ki Chatni or Tomato Chutney
Tamatar ki Chatni or Tomato Chutney
(or Tomato Chutney)

Makes about 3 cups

1.5 lb tomatoes (600 grams)
12 oz shallots (342 grams)
2 - 3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon cooking oil
½ teaspoon chana dal (Desi chickpeas)
½ teaspoon urad dal
¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder (or use cayenne to your heat preference)
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate

TEMPERING:
1 tablespoon cooking oil
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 dried red chili, whole
8 to 10 curry leaves
¼ teaspoon asafetida

Prepare the tomatoes: wash, then cut into chunks. Place them into a bowl and set aside. There should be about 3 cups of chopped tomatoes. Prepare the shallots and garlic: Chop the shallots and garlic and set aside separately from the tomatoes.


prepping vegetables and dals and seeds
Prep vegetables  -  measure the urad and chana dal and fenugreek  -  toast the dals and seeds
Heat a large skillet and add in the first tablespoon of cooking oil. Once hot, add in the chana dal and urad dal and toast, stirring constantly, until deep golden in color, then add in the fenugreek seeds for a few seconds more. Add in all the shallots and garlic and saute until the shallots are tender, but not browned. 
shallots raw then cooked - tomatoes raw then cooked
shallots raw then cooked - tomatoes raw then cooked
Tempering Ingredients
Tempering Ingredients

Add to the skillet the chopped tomatoes with the Kashmiri chili powder (or a pinch or two of cayenne), the sugar and tamarind concentrate. Lower heat slightly and cover, cooking until the tomatoes have completely broken down, about 12 minutes. Once cooked down, pour the contents of the skillet into a blender container and blend smooth. Pour into a bowl for serving.

Now prepare the "tempering" ingredients (tempering is nothing more than flavoring ingredients added in last, and whole): Heat a small skillet to very hot. Add in the tablespoon of cooking oil, then the mustard seeds. Cook until the seeds begin to pop, then add in the remaining ingredients all at once, stirring quickly, just until fragrant. Pour the tempering ingredients over top of the chutney to serve.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


On to the Mangoes


For the Mango recipe, firstly, the recipe is Tamil and this is technically called a "pickle." I have yet to truly understand what the difference is between a chutney and a pickle, in most cases. This South Indian recipe is termed "pickle" or Thokku.
Green Mango Thokku or Pickle
Green Mango Thokku or Pickle
The fact that my mangoes were green and hard did not mean that it translated to green inside, so my "pickle" is still bright mango colored. It is strange to eat, as it is likely sweeter than it should be, were it truly made with green mangoes, but is not sweetened. I like the flavor. The recipe does have just a little heat. More can be added, to taste, or left out, as needed.


Green Mango Thokku

Green Mango Thokku or Green Mango Pickle
Green Mango Thokku or Green Mango Pickle
(or Green Mango Pickle)

Makes almost 2 cups

2 green, unripe mangoes
2 - 3 teaspoons Kashmiri chili powder, to taste
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon brown sugar 

TEMPERING:
1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
6 curry leaves, lightly chopped
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
- pinch asafetida

Peel the mangoes and grate finely, then set aside.

Heat the tablespoon of oil in a skillet and cook the mustard and fenugreek until the seeds begin to splutter. Turn out into a mortar and crush the seeds. Set aside. 

In the same skillet, adding more oil if needed, pour in the grated mango, chili powder and salt. Stir in the pounded seeds and the sugar. Stir well and cook for just a few minutes until the mixture loses some moisture and thickens. Turn out to a bowl for serving. 


Tempering: In a separate skillet, heat the 2nd tablespoon of oil and add in the curry leaves, brown mustard seeds and asafetida. Cook, stirring, until the seeds begin to splutter, then pour over the mango mixture and serve. 


My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

More Scones with an Interesting ingredient

I do love scones. As it happens, my husband also loves my scones, eagerly awaiting them as I make them most weekends. The fact that I have been experimenting with alternative flours has not stopped our appreciation of these wonderful breakfast (or any time) treats. Ever since using the recipe template for scones that I posted here, I have turned out more fabulous combinations than I would have believed possible. 
Finger Miller & Almond Scones with Craisins & White Baking Chips
Finger Miller & Almond Scones with Craisins & White Baking Chips

This template for scones is simple. Keep to the amounts for the dry ingredients, barring small changes in amounts for salt or sugar, and when using whole grain flours, the amount of cream seems to lessen to ¾ cup, more often than not, so start with ¾ cup to be safe, then add in a bit more, up to one full cup in total, if needed. 

This is the formula, once again:

  • 2 cups flour: Whether all purpose, whole wheat, whole spelt or Kamut, or other alternate grain flour mixed in such as buckwheat, teff, amaranth, millet, etc. Check out these Teff Amaranth Scones or Whole Grain Kamut Maple Pecan SconesIn general, I keep a small amount of all purpose flour, with up to 1½ cups of alternate flours. The one exception to date is buckwheat, which tastes wonderful, but too much buckwheat flour make the scones far too delicate, with a tendency to disintegrate. A little buckwheat flour makes amazingly melt-in-the-mouth tender scones, such as in these Buckwheat Spelt Scones, Buckwheat Scones with Romano Cheese, Dried Figs, Fresh Thyme & Walnuts. *Another great substitute is a small amount of almond meal or hazelnut meal. Keep in mind that these nut meals are not flour and do not act like flour, so keep amounts smaller.
  • 1 to 4 tablespoons sugar. Depending on the other flavor components, less sugar, even only 1 tablespoon can be more than enough. This is purely to taste.
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder.
  • 1 to 1¼ teaspoons salt.
  • Optional: ½ teaspoon cream of tartar.
  • 5 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter.
  • ¾ to 1 cup whipping cream or heavy cream.
So, back to the idea of alternate flours. In the past couple of blog posts, I have mentioned going to a Patel's Grocery in Chandler, AZ. They have the most amazing selection of lentils, grams and beans I have ever seen. And as the Indians market their lentils/grams/beans in any of three different ways EACH, it can quickly get confusing. Thankfully, I unraveled much of that particular conundrum some little while back (read about that here). And then there are an equally amazing array of different types of millets used in Indian cooking. I have used "white" millet before, in such recipes as these Buckwheat Millet Pancakes. This is the same kind found in bird seed mixes, simply called white millet, likely Proso Millet. This is only one variety. In the Patel's grocery I also found Pearl Millet, Foxtail Millet, Sorghum, Finger Millet, Koda Millet, Little Millet and Barnyard Millet - in addition to the Proso Millet! The choices then are whether to buy it whole or broken or in the form of flour. In order to begin familiarizing myself with some of the other types, I bought Kodo Millet whole, and Finger Millet pre-ground into flour. 

Finger Miller & Almond Scones with Craisins & White Baking Chips
Finger Miller & Almond Scones with Craisins & White Baking Chips
I added about ¼ or maybe ⅓-cup of Kodo Millet (very light colored) to a large pot (12 cups) of vegetable soup I was cooking, and it totally thickened the pot of soup! I opened the Finger Millet Flour, and added some to my Scones this past Saturday. They were absolutely delightful. Finger Millet ("Ragi" in Hindi) is a very dark little seed, and the flour is also dark. It adds significant color to anything it is used in. I used only ⅔ cup in the scone mix, an amount I think is just perfect. The scones grew beautifully and tasted amazing. I will be making these again and again.

Should you have access to Finger Millet in flour form, do try out this recipe as one way to use this flavorful grain/seed. Incidentally, this grain is naturally gluten free.

Finger Millet & Almond Flour Scones

(with Craisins and White Baking Chips)

Makes 8 Scones

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a 12 - 14-inch round pan or other baking pan with parchment. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the first 7 dry ingredients, whisking to combine. With a pastry cutter, cut in the cold butter until it is well broken down to bits smaller than peas. Stir in the craisins and white baking chips, then pour in the whipping cream. With a fork, stir in the cream until the mass begins to hold together. Grease a clean, non-porous surface and turn the mixture out onto the greased area. Using hands, bring the mass together into a single mass about 8-inches in diameter. Using a large knife, cut across the circle, then across again the opposite way, making 4 wedges, Now, cut across each way again to form 8 equally sized wedges. Use the knife as a spatula to transfer the wedges to the prepared baking sheet, keeping them at least 1-inch apart. If desired, use a small amount of cream and using a pastry brush, brush the cream over the tops of the scones. Sprinkle with sugar to make a pretty finish, though this is not necessary; they are great without the extra cream and sugar on top.

Bake the scones for about 15 to 18 minutes, until golden and set. Serve warm or at room temperature. These scones keep well at room temperature, sealed in a zip-top bag, for at least one day.


My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Bottle Gourd on the Menu Again

Yesterday I wrote about discovering Bottle Gourd, aka Lauki in Hindi, Sorekkai in Tamil and lots of other names in other Indian languages. The dry curry (Lauki Sabzi / Sorekkai Poriyal) was absolutely excellent in flavor, and meanwhile, I had another bottle gourd to use, so I went recipe searching again. After reading three recipes out there (here, here and here) for recipes using bottle gourd mixed in with dal, I came up with a compromise between them and made myself a stupendously flavored lunch! 
Lauki Toor Dal or Sorekkai Kootu
Lauki Toor Dal or Sorekkai Kootu


The new recipe I was composing was a combination of bottle gourd and "dal," or one of the split, peeled lentils or grams commonly used in Indian recipes. Two of the recipes called for chana dal (split, peeled "Bengal Gram," which is actually a small brown chickpea) and another one called for moong dal (split, peeled mung beans), while one of the first two also mentioned the possibility of using toor dal (split, peeled pigeon peas). I have loved all the dal recipes I have made and eaten to date, and yet one of my favorites is toor dal / pigeon peas. I opted then to use these for the dal part of my recipe.

Another thing that came up was a new term. As it happens, I have spent some days trying to compose a table of Indian foods with their corresponding names in Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. I have run out of paper width in my table, so if I plunge into any more languages, it will need to be a new document. Once I began looking at recipes for this bottle gourd and dal style of recipe, it turned out that it seems pretty common, having found a northern, Punjabi recipe and a couple of more in southern style. Only some few ingredients would indicate region, such as coconut or Sambar Powder. One southern style from Tamil introduced the word "Kootu," which simply means an Indian stew of lentils and vegetables. 


Bottle Gourd or Lauki or Sorekkai
Bottle Gourd or Lauki or Sorekkai
As there are really very few differences in these recipes, whether northern or southern Indian, I used the ingredients I liked most or had on hand, such as the Sambar Powder. Some recipes called for Garam Masala instead, and I had that also, but to date, the only use I've made of my Sambar Powder is to make Sambar. And I love it. But to find a new use for Sambar Powder was great - just as my use of Idli Powder/Idli Podi in the bottle gourd recipe I posted yesterday.


How to Pick and Use Bottle Gourd / Lauki / Sorekkai

If you have not read my post of yesterday, on the topic of Bottle Gourd, when buying, look for firmness. Too soft means the seeds are too developed. In any case, if the seed portions are soft, even with small seeds, the seed portion should be scooped out, as with cucumbers, though the texture is more like overgrown zucchini. The outer flesh should be peeled. In these two recipes of yesterday and today, small cubes of about ½-inch square are called for.


Sorakkai Kootu or Lauki Toor Dal


(Bottle Gourd and Toor Dal Stew)

Serves 2
Lauki Toor Dal or Sorekkai Kootu
Lauki Toor Dal or Sorekkai Kootu


½ cup toor / arhar dal (split, peeled pigeon peas)
1½ - 2 cups water, for cooking
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder OR 1 teaspoon grated fresh turmeric root
4 cups bottle gourd, peeled, cubed
2 teaspoons Sambar Powder (here)
1 teaspoon salt
------
1 tablespoon cooking oil
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 dry red chili, whole
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ cup chopped onion
10 - 12 curry leaves
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
1 hot green chili, minced (seeds removed for less heat)
½ teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
½ teaspoon red chili powder (ground chilis, not the mixture used for Chili con Carne)
1 medium tomato, chopped
½ cup chopped cilantro leaves

Wash the toor dal repeatedly in fresh water, until the water runs off mostly clear. Place the dal into a large saucepan and cover with the water, starting with 1½ cups, adding more if needed to keep the mixture soupy towards the end of cooking. Bring to boil, removing foam as it forms, then add in the turmeric. Cook time should be 30 to 40 minutes. Once the lentils are mostly cooked through but still a little al dente, add in the bottle gourd cubes (first photo in series below) and soak 8 to 12 minutes more, until the bottle gourd is tender (photo 2 in series below). Add in the sambar powder and salt and stir. 
Making the stew

While the dal and bottle gourd are cooking, heat a skillet over medium to medium high heat and add in the mustard seeds. Once the seeds begin to crackle and sputter, quickly add in the whole dry red chili and cumin seeds, toss quickly, lower heat to medium low, then add in the onion, curry leaves, garlic, ginger and green chili (photo 1 in series below), stirring and cooking until the onions are soft and beginning to turn golden. Add in the coriander seeds and red chili powder with the chopped tomato (photo 2 in series below) and cook, stirring often, until the tomato has completely broken down, about 5 minutes (photo 3 in series below). 
Making the spiced mixture

Once the lentils and bottle gourd are cooked through, add in this mixture (photo 4 in series above) along with the cilantro and stir well. Serve with chapatis or other Indian flat bread.


My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Indian Adventures and New Vegetables

A few days ago I got to go to a Patel's Grocery store in Chandler, AZ. I have been in various Indian or International groceries in past, one quite recently down in Tucson. And I have no complaint. It is a marvel to have some of the foods right there, at hand. Things I usually have to go online to find. One of my difficulties since moving to Arizona was that during summer I could not successfully order curry leaves online and have them arrive in any fit shape to use for cooking. The heat here in summer was intense, to say the least. The "fresh" leaves arrived blackened and smelling awful. 

Having been in these varying groceries over the years, all of them small, though fairly well stocked with Indian basics, none of these remotely prepared me for Patel's. I didn't even know something like this existed. It is big! And, OMG, so many foods! So many veggies! I'd never been in an Indian grocery with any fresh produce but the most simple, and that generally wilted and sad looking. While many of the vegetables at Patel's were rather wilted looking, I can understand this. Our regular local grocery doesn't do any better. And at Patel's the produce area was HUGE! 
Bottle Gourd or Lauki or Sorakkai
Bottle Gourd or Lauki or Sorakkai


There were so many things I just had absolutely no idea where to start. As I had never had access to all these unknown vegetables, I didn't even know what some were. Where does one start when one is so unfamiliar with so many things?

So, I watched people. And finally I asked a young Pakistani woman what the vegetable she was holding was used for? What does one need to know when making a selection? How is it used?

Bottle Gourd or Lauki or Sorakkai
Bottle Gourd or Lauki or Sorakkai
She was as sweet as could be. The sign above the vegetables told me these were Bottle Gourds, or "Lauki."Which told me absolutely nothing. As well versed as I am in so much of Indian Cuisine, I had never had any access to anything new, so my recipes reflect an Indian method and flavor applied to only veggies I already know, such as potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, squash, peas, etc. The young woman told me to look for Lauki that are not very soft, as softness would indicate that the seeds inside were too developed and you would lose too much of the vegetable. Was one supposed to peel it, I asked? Yes, indeed, I was assured. I asked how she cooked this vegetable, and she replied that she fried onion, garlic, ginger, added tomatoes, turmeric and cooked the cubed Lauki until soft, but not mushy. Okay, I felt I had at least an idea of where to start. 

I bought one and brought it home. As it turned out, the seeds inside were exceedingly small, so the majority of the vegetable was perfect for cutting and cooking. Actually, it reminded me very much of a slightly overgrown zucchini in texture and also the seed arrangement. Now, I needed a recipe.
Lauki Sabzi or Sorekkai Poriyal
Lauki Sabzi or Sorekkai Poriyal

Looking online for Bottle Gourd recipes, I came upon a few, quite similar to one another. Having now a few other things on hand, such as frozen grated fresh coconut, I opted to use this recipe by Swasthi, changing it only a little. My first introduction to Bottle Gourd was as "Lauki," apparently a Hindi word. Later, I found it also called "Dudhi, though I am not sure in which of the many, many Indian languages. When looking for recipes with Bottle Gourd, I also came upon it called "Sorakkai." Apparently this is a Tamil word. I went to work. I also made a new recipe of Nariyal Chutney, which tasted far better when using fresh (albeit frozen) coconut. With some leftover rice, this recipe made a wonderful lunch!

Just FYI, I believe the word "Sabzi" or "Subzi" indicates a dry "curry" possibly in Hindi, one without sauce, but lots of flavors added. As I read further, it appears possible that a similar indication, for a dry curry or sauteed dish is "Poriyal," in Tamil language in the south of India. So, this dish can be called Lauki Sabzi or Sorekkai Poriyal. Or Bottle Gourd Dry Curry!

Lauki Sabzi or Sorekkai Poriyal

(Bottle Gourd Dry Curry)
Lauki Sabzi or Sorekkai Poriyal
Lauki Sabzi or Sorekkai Poriyal


Serves 2

2 cups bottle gourd, peeled, cubed (can easily substitute zucchini)
1 tablespoon cooking oil
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon channa dal (or Bengal Gram or senaga pappu)
1 teaspoon urad dal (or skinned black gram or minapa pappu)
1 medium shallot, minced
10 to 12 curry leaves (about 1 stem)
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
1 - 2 green chilies, minced finely (remove seeds for less heat)
1 tablespoon Idli Podi
- pinch of turmeric, or 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh turmeric root
2 tablespoons fresh, grated coconut or frozen grated coconut
½ teaspoon salt, or as needed

Prepare the bottle gourd: peel the gourd, then check if the seeds are too big (which makes the center airy and light, with no substance but for seeds). If the seeds are prominent, core out the center and discard. Cut the remaining flesh into half-inch cubes and set aside.

Heat a skillet that will accommodate all the bottle gourd chunks over medium to medium high and add the oil. Once well heated, add in the mustard seeds. As soon as they begin to pop and crackle,  add in the cumin seeds and the channa and urad dals and saute quickly, stirring constantly until the dals are deep golden. Immediately add in the shallot and curry leaves and stir to combine, then add in the garlic and green chilies. Stir in the bottle gourd pieces and stir well to coat with the spices, lower heat slightly and cook, stirring often until the bottle gourd is tender, but not mushy. This can take as little as 5 minutes, or as long as 12 to 15, depending on the gourd itself. If it is taking a while, cover the skillet for a few minutes until it is tender.  Add in the turmeric (powder or root), the Idli Podi and the coconut with the salt and stir well, cooking a further 3 or so minutes to meld flavors. 

Serve with rice and chutney or chutnies and flat bread of choice: chapati, paratha or other.


My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

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