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Monday, October 29, 2012

Phirni (Firni) - A Delicious Indian Pudding

This is the first time I made this recipe and it was also the first time that all of us tasted Phirni. It was well received by everyone. My husband gave it a great review and told me that it was a keeper. It is a recipe my mom made this festive season, and when she told me how to make it, I was very enthusiastic to make it. It is a relatively easy recipe and doesn't take a lot of effort, and tastes fabulous. You do need to plan for it a few hours ahead at least, as there is some pre-preparation, soaking time needed and then you need an hour or two of cool down time, as it is to be served cold. It is an easy recipe, with high returns, that you can make for any celebratory occasion or just for everyday dessert.

2 tbsp ghee/clarified butter
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick,1/2 inch
1/4 cup rice
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups milk
a pinch of saffron
1 green cardamom, peeled and powdered
almonds, for garnish
raisins, for garnish

Soak the rice for 1-2 hours (at least one hour). Drain the water and grind the rice coarsely. Heat the ghee in the saucepan. Then add the cloves and cinnamon stick and fry them for a minute till they are fragrant.  Add the rice and cook it for a couple of minutes. The rice will puff up as it absorbs the ghee. Roast the rice for another minute or so. Don't let it turn brown. Then add the milk to this and boil till the mixture thickens. Make sure to stir as it cooks, so that the rice doesn't stick to the bottom and burn. Then, add the sugar. The mixture will become a little liquidy again as the sugar dissolves to form syrup. Add the saffron and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the cardamom powder. The mixture should be thick, like a porridge. At this stage you can add in almonds and raisins. Pour the phirni into the serving cups/ramekins.  Cool for at least one to two hours before serving. Serve cold. As it cools, it will set and become like a thick pudding or custard. Garnish with almonds and raisins before serving. Traditionally this is served in small earthen pots, however you can serve in  any dessert bowls.

Make sure to pour it into the serving dishes before it cools, so that it sets properly. This does need a  little bit of attention and some stirring to make sure that the rice doesn't stick to the bottom and burn. It is easier to make this in a non stick saucepan. Cook it on low heat. If you are cooking it in a steel vessel, stir more frequently (not continuously).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Paneer Khurchan - Spiced Cottage Cheese

Paneer khurchan is a relatively new find for me. I have been eating various curries and dishes (spicy and sweet) made from paneer for years, ever since I can remember. However, I hadn't heard of this dish till about a couple of years ago. My husband was reminiscing about his good old college days and he mentioned that occasionally whenever his friend and he went out to dinner, this was a dish they always used to order. Then he asked me, if it was something that I could make. Of course, never having eaten sit, I thought I would give it a shot based on his description. I am not sure if the final result is exactly what he ate, but it turned out really good. It has become one of my go to recipes when I invite guests. It is easy to make and very tasty.

1 green bell pepper (medium), sliced into strips
1 red/yellow/orange (or a mix of colors) bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 tomato, sliced into strips
a 3X3X1 inch slab of paneer (if using ready made). If you make it at home then paneer resulting from about 1-1.5 litre of milk. Approximately 1.5 to 2 cups.
3 cloves of garlic, ground
1 medium red onion, sliced into strips
1 tbsp oil
1/8 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 cup tomato puree (or puree 2 tomatoes)
1/2 - 1 tsp red chilli powder, to taste
salt to taste

Heat the oil in a flat pan. Then add the cumin seeds. Once they start to crackle, add the onions and garlic. Fry it for a minute and then add the bell pepper slices. Stir fry for another minute and then add the tomato strips. Once the vegetables are partially cooked (about 2-3 minutes), add the tomato puree, chilli powder and the paneer. If using ready made paneer, cut it into small pieces and add it. If the paneer is freshly made, just add it without shaping and cutting it. Add salt.
Cook on low to medium heat. The paneer will start sticking to the base of the pan. Scrape it off and keep stirring it. Eventually the paneer will start melting and get scrambled. Cook till the paneer and vegetables are cooked through completely. You will get a nice buttery  fragrance as the paneer browns slightly. Do not let it burn. Make sure to brown the paneer a little. Do not stop the cooking process as soon as the paneer has melted and gotten scrambled. The browning adds a lot of flavor to the dish. Serve hot with roti or naan.

If you are using fresh paneer, you need not squeeze out all the whey water from the paneer. You can just drain it and then add the paneer to the vegetables. The water will evaporate as the paneer cooks down. Make sure to turn down the heat once the paneer reaches the scrambled stage as it can burn easily as it starts to brown and get stuck to the base of the pan. The recipe to make paneer at home can be found here.
You can grind up the leftovers and use it as stuffing for parathas the next day. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sweet Corn Soup

This is a wonderful, easy, healthy and absolutely delicious recipe.  It is another one of those Indianized Chinese recipes. I don't even know if this is inspired from an actual Chinese recipe, but it can always be found on the menu in Chinese restaurants in India. It is a very healthy recipe because it incorporates a variety of recipes. It can also prove to be a bit laborious at times, since you need to cut all these vegetables. However, the end result is worth it. If you have a food processor or a chopper then this is becomes a very easy to make recipe.

1 tbsp oil
2-3 cloves garlic, finely diced
1/2 inch ginger, finely grated
1/2 red onion, diced into small pieces
1 celery stalk, cut into thin slices
1 corn on the cob or 1 can of cream style corn
1 carrot, grated or julienned
10-12 green beans, cut into thin diagonal slices
1/2 cup peas
3-4 green onions, cut into diagonal slices, about 1/2 cm in width (both the onion and leaves)
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 green chilli, finely diced (optional, if you want a spicy tinge)
3 cups of water of vegetable broth

If you are using fresh corn on the cob, then pressure cook it and grate it. Alternately you can also steam it till the corn is softened and then grate it.

In a deep pot, heat the oil and add the ginger and garlic to it. If you want to use the chilli, then add it in at this time. Stir and let it cook for a minute and add the diced onion and the onion part of the green onion and cook till softened, next add the celery, beans and carrot. Cook for another couple of minutes, and then add the peas, and the cooked corn (either fresh cooked corn ot the canned corn). Stir and then add the broth or water and let it all boil. Let the soup thicken and cook till all the vegetables are cooked through. Add salt and pepper and mix well.

Garnish with the green onion leaves and serve hot.

If the vegetables are cooked through and the soup is still very thin, then add a slurry or a paste of 1 tsp of cornflour and 1 tbsp of water. Add the slurry to the soup and boil it and let the soup thicken. If needed you can add a little more of this slurry.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Surali Chi Wadi/ Khandvi - Chickpea and Buttermilk Rolls

This is a delicacy and generally made in Maharashtra and Gujarat. In Maharashtra it is called “surali chi vadi" while in Gujarat it is called “khandvi”.  It is a popular appetizer and if you can make it well then it is a sign that you are a skilled cook.

It has very simple ingredients and the main components are chickpea flour/besan and yogurt/ buttermilk. The mixture is cooked with some spices, then spread out and once cooled, rolled into delicate little rolls. Sounds simple enough right? However, ask most people if this is a recipe they are willing to make often and the most common answer is “no, it is a difficult recipe”. There are three main reasons for this. First, it requires you to constantly stir the mixture, to avoid forming lumps and that takes its toll on your arm. Second, it is tricky to determine at what consistency you need to stop cooking as the mixture must not be overcooked or undercooked, else it is tough to form the rolled shape. And finally spreading the mixture out in a timely manner, while it is hot, so that the layer created is thin enough to be rolled up. All these steps need you to be careful, pay attention to what is going on in the cooking process and hence it becomes laborious. However valid these reasons, don’t be scared and definitely make this recipe. As you make it more often, you will get the hang of it. In the worst case scenario the mixture will be too soft or too thick, to be rolled up into a pretty shape, but it will taste great even if you use a spoon to eat it or cut it into slices and eat it. So go ahead and try it. You will want to make it more often, and soon it will become one of your "easy to make and impress guests" recipes.

for the rolls
1 cup chickpea flour/besan
2.75 ( 2 and 3/4th) cup sour buttermilk (alternately you can use 3/4th cup sour yogurt with 2 cups water)
1/8 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp chilli powder, to taste
salt to taste

optional stuffing
1/4 cup fresh grated coconut
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4-1/2 green chilli, finely chopped
for the tempering1 tbsp oil1/8 tsp mustard 1/8 tsp jeera/cumin seeds
pinch of asafoetida
1-2 green chillies, sliced into two parts, to taste
4-5 curry leaves
salt to taste

Decide what you will be spreading the cooked mixture onto. Lay these out and keep them ready. The surfaces should be dry and do not grease them. You can use the flat bases of steel plates by inverting them or flat bases of cookie sheets. A well cleaned stone counter top can also be directly used to spread the mixture all at once. I generally use a couple of sheets of aluminium foil.

If you are using yogurt and water, then mix these two together and whisk it well till you get a smooth solution.

Mix together the besan, salt, turmeric, chilli powder. Then add a little buttermilk (water+yogurt solution) to it, just enough to make a smooth paste. Then add the remaining buttermilk and thin out the mixture. Next, place the pan onto the gas to cook the mixture. Keep stirring it constantly, especially when it starts to thicken. Keep it on low heat; else the mixture at the base of the pan will thicken very fast, compared to the top layer, creating lumps. Stir frequently so that lumps are not formed.

As it boils and thickens, take a spoon full of it and spread it in a thin layer onto the foil or the plate that you plan to use. Let it cool for a minute and try lifting the layer off the surface using your thumb (trying to roll that layer). If the mixture sticks to the surface and you are unable to lift it off, continue to let the mixture cook on low heat. At a certain point, you will feel that you are able to lift the spread out layer from the surface and it remains in a single sheet, which you can roll up. At this point, turn off the heat and start spreading the mixture on the prepared surfaces. Try to spread a thin layer about 2-3 mm in thickness. As the mixture cools, it will get tougher to spread the mixture, so at this step it is necessary to work very fast. So it is essential that you have your plates/foil laid out, before you start cooking.

Once all the mixture has been spread out, let it cool down to room temperature. Then with a sharp knife cut the layer into strips of about 1 to 1.5 inches in width and about 6-10 inches in length.

At this step you can sprinkle the grated coconut, cilantro and green chilli on this before you start rolling the strips or you can just roll up the strips without filling it with anything. They taste great either way. This recipe will yield about 20-30 rolls depending on the length of the strips that you cut. So you can make both varieties.

At this stage you can eat the rolled “surali chi vadi/khandvi”. However, I feel it tastes better and stays moister with some tempered and seasoned oil. To make that, heat the oil in a small saucepan. To this add the mustard and cumin seeds. As soon as they crackle, add the green chillies, curry leaves, hing/asafetida and then turn off the heat.

Scoop this tempered oil with a spoon and drizzle on top of the rolls. Garnish with some chopped cilantro/coriander leaves. Serve at room temperature or cold.

This recipe requires old, sour yogurt or buttermilk. It is the perfect recipe, to utilize yogurt that you are unable to eat because it is too sour. If you want to make this for a special occasion, plan ahead and buy or make your yogurt about 8-10 days in advance. That way it will be sour enough when you make it.

As the mixture cooks and boils it will start to bubble and spray it, so use a mesh or a cover to keep it from spraying on to your hand. To avoid lumps, make sure that you remove lumps from the mixture before starting to cook it. Do not add all the liquid to the chickpea mixture all at once. Add a little at a time and mix well and remove all the lumps and make a smooth paste. Then add the remaining liquid slowly, stirring the mixture so that it stays lump free. Then start the cooking process.
Cook it on low to medium heat. Especially as it nears the final stage, you need to cook it on low heat to be able to manage the lumps. If you have an immersion hand blender, then you can use that at the final stage to remove the lumps from the mixture before you spread it out. In this instance you can be a little less vigilant and even if you do get a few lumps you will be able to remove them with the blender.