Friday, 2 February 2018

Soul Soup




Time was when fresh green peas were only available in winter and at exorbitant prices in South India. Frozen green peas were a thing out of science fiction. In these antediluvian times, even a few kilos of fresh green peas created a lot of excitement in a family, where our foremothers were pioneers of the zero-waste, sustainable, waste-not-want-not approach to everything that required the expenditure of any resource.

This said approach was invariably applied to the said peas, which were divided into categories based on their quality.

The random prematurely plucked pea pods were destined to go into Aai’s famous pea shell soup, which was another winter must-have.

Tender pea pods were reserved for the privilege of “matar gashti” – literally guarding a field of green peas, and figuratively having fun. There are fewer pleasures in life greater than shelling tender peas and eating them. We were allowed all the tender ones, but with a proviso. We kids had to string and break the shells into pieces for the pea shell soup.

Our interest rarely lasted beyond hastily stringing the pods after the peas had been popped, knowing that Aai would patiently pick the remaining shells that qualified for the soup.

The bigger peas ones were used for cooking – whether it was in a curry, a pulao or a masale bhaat and their shells didn’t always land in the soup, if they were tough and fibrous.

Aai’s pea shell soup was as mysterious as the witches’ charmed soup in Macbeth.

It would go something like this....

"Scales of onion, cubes of potato,
Switches of coriander, and some clo’
And a piece of cinnamon bark,
Root of ginger digg'd i' the dark,
Sliver of blaspheming chilli,
Spoon of oil or perhaps some ghee
Stringed and broken pea shucks,
Dose of cream or any fat that sauces,
Spoonful of freshly squeezed lemon
Make for the gruel in our cauldron…"

At this point, the magical soup reclaimed our attention. Hope it captures yours.

Pea Shell Soup

Ingredients

3 cups tender shells of peas, stringed and broken into small pieces
1 cup shelled peas
1small onion –roughly chopped
1 small potato, scrubbed clean and cut into pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp minced garlic + 2 whole cloves of garlic
½ tsp minced fresh ginger
1 small green chilli
A tablespoon of chopped of coriander
1 tbsp oil 
1-2 cloves
½ inch piece of cinnamon
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh cream or coconut cream for garnish

Method

Wash pea shells and scrub potato – if the skin is clean, don’t peel. Place the shells, half a cup of peas, the chopped potato and onion, coriander, green chilli and the garlic cloves in the body of a pressure cooker/ pressure pan. Cover with about 2 cups of water. Pressure-cook the vegetables for about 10 minutes.

When cooled, blend using a stick blender or a mixer. Strain with a large holed strainer, ensuring that no cellulose bits get into the soup extract.

In the same pressure pan, heat oil and add the cloves and cinnamon stick. Add the finely chopped onions, the minced garlic, fresh ginger and remaining shelled peas and sauté for a few minutes. Pour the soup mix into the saucepan and let it simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze half a lemon when the soup has boiled.


Serve hot with a dash of fresh cream or use coconut cream if you want to keep this soup vegan.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Bhajani Stuffed Capsicum

Bhajani Bharleli Bhongi Mirchi (Capsicum with a multi-grain filling)




Bhajani is a handy multi-grain flour made with roasted grains and pulses. Sometimes, some of the grains are washed before roasting. This pre-processing makes bhajani quick to cook and easier to digest. The whole grains and pulses or lentils ensure plenty of fibre, which also gives the finished products a great grainy texture.

There are no fixed ingredients, but rice, wheat, jowar, bajra, raagi and pulses like whole chickpeas, green or black gram, or other lentils or various daals are commonly used. There are no fixed proportions for the ingredients either, but a general rule of thumb is to use more grains than pulses. Bhajani also includes roasted coriander and cumin seeds, which give it a distinct flavour.

Bhajani is used to make breads like thalipeeth and dhapatey, or chakalis. It can be made into mokli bhajani, an upma like dish that is very nutritious and easy to make. It can also be used to stuff all sorts of vegetables like okra, capsicum, snake gourds, tomatoes.


Ingredients

8 small Bhongi Mirchis (capsicums)

1 medium onion, chopped

¾ cup bhajani flour (I used a home made roasted multigrain flour made of rice, wheat, chana daal, whole matki and whole moong and spices like coriander and cumin)

A handful of coriander, chopped

2 tbsp besan (optional)

½ tsp coriander powder

½ tsp cumin powder

Red chilli powder to taste, depending on how hot the capsicum is

¼ tsp hing

¼ tsp haldi

Salt to taste

2 tbsp oil






Method

In a bowl, mix the chopped onion and sprinkle some salt. Rub the salt into the onions to bring out the moisture. Add the bhajani flour and besan, coriander and cumin powders, haldi and hing. Check and adjust the salt. Add 1 tbsp oil and lightly mix it into a crumbly mixture. There’s no need to add water, as the mixture will cook on the steam and firm up.

Wash the capsicums and slice the tops off. Remove all the seeds with a sharp knife. Rub a little oil onto each pepper from the outside and stuff with the crumbly bhajani mixture.

Arrange the capsicums on their sides in a heavy bottomed shallow pan and drizzle the rest of the oil on top. Place the pan on the stovetop and cook covered on a very low flame. Turn the capsicums once to ensure even cooking. Remove from heat when the capsicum skins are roasted and the stuffing looks cooked. This should take about 10-15 minutes.

Alternately, you could try baking the stuffed capsicums in a hot oven for about 15 minutes or until they are done to your liking.

You can serve the capsicums warm or at room temperature with any main meal or even as a starter or snack.



Saturday, 5 November 2016

Sleight of hand laadu

Vegan and Low-Sugar Besanacha Laadu





Besan laadus are loved by one and all – right from our modest middle class Marathi homes, to the flamboyant filmy families – yes, those made by “Maa with her own hands”.

I wonder how “Maa” can make them with someone else’s hands….

Talking about mothers and hands, my Aai always rolled laadus with both her hands.

A large portion of the laadu mixture was made into a rough ball shaped with both the hands cupping it, the heel of the hand and the two middle fingers dexterously rotating in opposite directions.  This process was supervised by the artistically curved fore and little fingers, who didn’t realise they were only being kept on this post as they didn’t have a role to play in the real process

The result was a perfectly round large ball of unqualified happiness.

But…. this was in the days when people ate whole and big laadus without a worry.

With time and with our growing health considerations to limit or eliminate sugar and fats from our diets, the size of laadus is getting smaller and smaller.

And there is nothing more irritating than watching a perfect laadu made with such love and care, being broken and scattered and totally wasted.

The only way to do justice to a laadu is to bite into it. Or better still - roll them with only one hand, I mean - smaller, so you could pop a whole laadu into your mouth.

There are other types of sleights of hand we need to learn and practice all the time.

For the last few years since my daughters have become vegan, I have started experimenting with alternate fats in the making of sweets, especially the besan laadu.

Having tried olive oil, vegan margarine, I have now zeroed in on making these laadus in RBD Coconut oil, which is refined, bleached, and deodorized coconut oil, for it mimics the properties of ghee or toop, and there is absolutely no flavour or smell of coconut to this oil.

Microwaving besan and ghee/coconut oil is a very quick process as the actual roasting is done in a few minutes – the only issue with this is you need to microwave in short bursts and remove the bowl and stir the besan thoroughly.

Another advantage is that you can also use significantly less amounts of ghee or oil when you make roast the besan in a microwave, as it the mixture does not need to be stirred all the time while roasting.

As a result of being low fat, the laadus retain their shapes better and do not “sit” – a literal translation of Marathi - लाडू बसले :) 

You can cut out or cut down cane sugar from the laadu by using Splenda or sucralose in this laadu, as it can be mixed just as you would mix the powdered sugar. You can make the laadus with only Splenda, but it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste and lacks the full body that sugar gives.

But there’s something for this in my bag of tricks! 

Some powdered sugar completes the taste left a little lacking by the substitutes –after all you make these once a year for Diwali, which of course is unimaginable without these besan laadus. 

Ingredients

2 cups laadu besan (this is coarse chick pea flour – also known as laadu besan)
¾ cup refined organic coconut oil – this works just as ghee does- except for the flavour – but if you ignore that, you wouldn’t know it’s not ghee!
2 cups powdered sugar  - I used a mixture of ¾ cup powdered sugar and ½ cup Splenda powder (sucralose) but you could vary the proportion.
1 tsp powdered cardamom

Method

In a microwave proof bowl, melt the coconut oil. Add the besan and mix well with your hand till you get a mixture that looks like breadcrumbs.

Place the bowl in microwave and set on maximum temperature for 1 minute.

After 1 minute take out bowl form the microwave and mix thoroughly. Repeat this 2-3 times, taking care to mix thoroughly each time, until the mixture has cooled considerably.

The microwaves cook the insides of the besan mixture, so the besan actually gets roasted more than it shows form the outside. Hence, it’s important to stir and mix thoroughly and making sure that the temperature’s come down considerably before placing the bowl back into the microwave.

At some point, the mixture becomes lighter as the besan gets dehydrated and becomes more fluid. This is also when it starts to ooze out the oil.

From this point onwards, you should keep a keen look out for the colour of the besan, especially from deep within the mixture.

After about 3 - 4 minutes, you should get the besan roasted to a darker shade of golden brown.

Remove the bowl and continue to stir the mixture, as it continues to cook in its own heat.

When the mixture cools down add the powdered sugar and Splenda and the powdered cardamoms.

Mix well and roll out small laadus. These laadus don’t need refrigeration and last well for a few weeks.