Nov 182013
 

Back in the days, in late 80’s when dollar could buy quite few things in India, a friend of mine in grad school went back to Suratkal to visit his girlfriend. He took her along with her friends out to dinner at a fancy place. While all others were ordering lavish dishes, he called the waiter and whispered to him “could you ask the chef to make me Mosaruanna?”. Of course, the girls were already impressed with credit card, and the power of dollar. On top of it, his confidence in going off the menu, that too, for a simple item like Mosaruanna, impressed them even more. I would like to think that it is one of the cherished moments in the courtship of my friend. 

[Long time later, he told me that the story is more prosaic. He was flat broke and thus the credit card. He has upset stomach, and thus the Mosuruanna. But, I like my fiction better.] 

When I was told this story, for a moment, I thought Mosaruanna is something fancy. Once I understood it is nothing but your yoghurt rice, I knew its many incarnations. It is perugannam in many Andhra households, daddOjanam in many temples, tairu saadam in Madras.

During IIT Madras days, an imaginative classmate of mine used to rag people into ending every answer with “curd rice power!” In Chennai, tairu saadam can be a complex affair.  A deconstruction of such a dish would have reveal the textural contrasts — with addition of fried chana daal; sudden bursts of flavor — with fried mustard seeds, curry leaves, and coriander leaves; variations in four fundamental tastes — salt, heat, tartness and sweet with pomegranate seeds and grapes. 

When I first came to US, in Meenakshi temple, they would have free food: tamarind rice and daddojanam. It is simple yoghurt rice, but the way it is made with slightly overcooked rice, or rice soaked in hot milk and yoghurt, where the yoghurt sets in the rice itself overnight. With addition of other unique Indian flavors (asafetida, ghee, curry leaves, ginger), it makes for a satisfying comfort food. When I made it at home, I made the mistake of adding onions when soaking the rice in milk and starter yoghurt. Overnight, it acquired very pungent taste. If you stick to basics (cooked rice, hot milk, starter yoghurt, green chilies, curry leaves, and coriander leaves). The next day, season it with mustard seeds, asafetida in hot ghee, and you are done. 

I have a theory of topological transformation of foods, call it neutrological, — that is how the same basic ingredients are transformed across cultures. Under this theory, curd rice is neutrologically equivalent to cheese sandwich. Instead of bread, you have rice. Instead of cheese, you have yoghurt.   Under similar transformation, it becomes lebbeh pita in the Middle East — strained yoghurt in a pocket bread. I am amazed how this simple comfort food crosses cultural boundaries. 

Recently, I heard that a dotcom millionaire started a grilled cheese sandwich restaurant. It is hailed as a brilliant move, with simple appeal of a comfort food. What if we use the same concept for our curd rice restaurant?

Of course, the ingredients would be very simple. We can go with any simple rice, the rice that can cook close to mash consistency. We can even use broken rice. Good yoghurt is the key for good curd rice. No wonder Kalidasa asked for “maahishaMcha saraschandra chandrikaa dhavaLaM dadhi” (the yoghurt made from buffalo’s milk, as white as autumn moonlight). We may have to settle for less. 

In this restaurant, I would have the basic perugannam with yoghurt and rice. I can let people choose different kinds pickles on the side. There would be one with aavakaya, which is your basic Andhra variety. This one would be Mallika’s favorite. I would offer one with fried red chilies. Of course, these red chilies would have seeds removed, soaked in buttermilk and then dried to make for a complex flavor profile, and yet satisfy a genuine Guntur person like my brother, who refused to eat perugannam when he was young, until served with these fried chilies. And, of course, Madhavi’s favorite would be lemon pickle on the side. 

How do I top off such a meal? Perhaps in silence? So, I remain.

Yours truly, Rama Kanneganti

 Posted by at 9:17 am
Nov 162013
 

I am busy. My wife is busier. Kids like Chicken curry. Faced with these realities, I created the following recipe that is quick and tasty. I reduced it to the bare minimum of effort, with some optional variations. I made it at a few friends places and they asked me for the recipe. I am sure there are several similar ones – but I made is simple, made it parallel, and made it foolproof. Please feel free to comment and share with others.

Ingredients

  1. One Costco chicken packet (thighs with bones): It weighs around 0.5 kg, slightly more than a pound, I think.
  2. Onions: 2 medium, or One large.
  3. Oil: 1 table spoon.
  4. Salt: 1 teaspoon
  5. Chili powder: 1 teaspoon
  6. Turmeric: 0.5 teaspoon
  7. Garlic+ ginger paste: 1 Table spoon. Store bought variety will do.
  8. Dry whole masala: two cardamom, two bay leaves, two small cinnamon sticks, two cloves
  9. Other roast masala: 1 table spoon coriander seeds, 8 Almonds, 6 cashews
  10. Optional: Kasuri methi leaves. Coriander leaves

Vessels needed:

  1. Pressure cooker: Medium size
  2. Toaster Oven: for roasting the roast masala.

Process

Read the process once or twice. I tried to parallelize it – while something is cooking, I do something else.

To start with chop the onions. Just dice them. No need to do a fine job. Don’t make them too big.

onions

While chopping the onions, you go ahead and put the pressure cooker on the stove. Heat up the oil. By the time onions are chopped, your oil should be hot.

Add the dry masala to the oil.

drymasala

When the bay leaves turn brown, add the onions. While the onions are frying, start chopping the chicken into small cubes. Make sure you cut through the bones. It is the bones that make good gravy.

chicken

After the onions are fried, add turmeric, chili powder, and salt to the onions. When they are translucent, add garlic ginger paste.

fried-onions

Now, you are ready to add chicken

fry-chicken

While the chicken is frying (without putting the lid on), toast the coriander, almonds, and cashews, separately, in a toaster oven. They should become brown, but not burnt. Here is how they look:

nutscoriander

Grind them fine. Don’t worry if there are some nuts that are not completely ground.

powder

By now, your chicken in the pressure cooker is mostly done. Remember that you did not yet put the lid on. That is, there is no pink color – the chicken would be light brown. Now, add the powder. Fry for one or two minutes. Now, add water (1 cup).  It should look like this:

chicken-before

Basically, all the ingredients are in. Now is the time to add optional ingredients (like methi, coriander leaves etc). After that, put the lid on the pressure cooker and cook. While the pressure cooker is going on, you can set the rice cooker on, clean the counter, and set the table etc.

Once the pressure cooker whistles once or twice, turn off the stove and leave the pressure on. When you can safely remove the lid, do so. Here is the final look:

final

Now, optionally, squeeze a little lemon juice (even the bottle one will do – perhaps a tea spoon).  As you can see, we got the separation oil from the curry thing going. It goes well with rice or roti. Make sure that you do not eat the dry masala ingredients in the gravy!

Bon appétit!

 Posted by at 11:48 am
Nov 252006
 

All the rage in the blogosphere

No knead bread

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
  1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
  2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
  3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
  4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

My experiences:

  • Attempt1: Perfect bread, until I messed up on the pan. I chose the wrong one without the lid and then immediately shifted to another which is not well heated. Still, it looked good.
  • Attempt2: Perfect bread. The pan problem solved. I used an aluminium vessel. Picture attached.
  • Attempt3: Added rosemary and a table spoon of olive oil. It did not raise as well, but tastier!
 Posted by at 5:04 pm
Feb 282006
 

I love biscotti. I have been trying various recipes and here is one that I consider that is sure bet. I found it on Alton Brown.

Biscotti

biscotti

(original from Owen Zoars)

It is important to dry out the biscotti, but don’t let it get stale.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 lb. (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon anise flavoring
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds (I find slivered or sliced almonds easier to chop than whole. Do not use almond meal.)

Steps:

Blend butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly after each.

Add flavorings. (If you like anise, use more.)

Add dry ingredients gradually, mixing carefully.

Mix in chopped almonds.

Spread in two loaf-like shapes on large greased cookie sheet (or use two sheets). Don’t spread too close to edge; they spread. They should be about 4 inches wide by 8 – 10 inches long.

Bake 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees until light brown. Let cool. Remove from cookie sheets and cut into 1″ slices. Arrange on cookie sheet allowing space between. Bake another 15 minutes or so to toast at lower temperature. I use 300 degrees. Let dry completely before storing.

 Posted by at 4:59 pm
Jul 082000
 

I have very few principles. One of them is "never eat at a place that spells dosa as dhosa, or sambar as sambhar". After I visited NYC for the first time, I added the "palok ponneer" to the list. There are thirty two restaurants in NYC, 6th street, alone that masquerade as Indian restaurants, with such egregious errors.

Speaking of restaurants, there are two dishes that are always the proof of a South Indian restaurant. One is coconut chutney. Anything less than fresh coconut reveals the lack of dedication of a chef to his/her clientele. Desiccated coconut is for the birds. If you are so hard pressed for fresh coconut, you could always use fried Sanaga pappu. Or, even use ginger pickle imaginatively (example: add sugar and water to make it a quick chutney).

The best coconut chutney? Fortunately, it is easy to get it right. The magic is in the freshness of the coconut. If the coconut is aged, it can give of that oil smell (which is just right for avial, another measure of a Kerala restaurant, but I digress). Fresh green chilies can add the required punch. After all this effort if you goof up on "tiragamOta", you lost your flavor.

Of course, the second measure is "rava dOsa". Over the years, I have eaten rava dosa from the ends of earth. I have eaten in London, NYC, SFO, Houston, Detroit, Madras, Bombay, Hyderabad, Nagpur. I have even tried ordering it in a restaurant in the arctic circle ("Sorry, we have reindeer meat if you would like to try").

For me the perfect rava dosa is a platonic concept. We, mere mortals,are eternally doomed to try to perfect it. I do have good memories of rava dosa though. My sister-in-law can turn out a great rava dosa on a good day. I recall Bharat Cafe on Etukuru road used to serve a good rava dosa. Unfortunately, neither my mother nor I can make good rava dosas.

What makes a rava dosa good? In one word, taste. Add too much oil and you cannot eat more than one. Add too little oil, you cannot even eat one. Add the potato curry, you lost the purity of dosa. Keep the mixture too long, you lost the crispiness. Make dosa too early, you lost the glutinous cohesion. What can I say? I am too picky with my dosas.

Couple of years back, I was in Guntur. For some reason anybody who invited us tries to make these extravagant dishes — all I want is a few more contributions to my compendium of rava dosa experiences. I could take it no longer; one early morning even before the household realized it, M, K, and I went to Ravi Sankar (a pale imitation to the Sankar Vilas of yester years). As usual, I ordered rava dosa. "We don’t have it now" was the answer. I could order "poori koora", I was told. I could even get regular dosa, which by the way, is as much Java resembles javascript (nerd allusion alert!).

Not perfecting rava dosa was a major disappointment to me. I could make paani poori from scratch. Why, I am known to make gumbo, chili, and even that divine dish panasa poTTu koora. I could, on occasion, command even yeast to produce bread. But, when it comes to rava dosa, I am a klutz.

Fortunately, recently, M. has decided that she needs to address this problem. Thanks to that, I report, I am having rava dosa for breakfast, lunch. and dinner. Is there such a thing as too much rava dosa?

Ramarao Kanneganti
July 8, 2000.
PS: I could see in future what is going to happen to my dinner invitations. Do any of you know the story of Sybil, the Greek woman who was cursed with her fulfillment of her wish?

[Originally published at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/racchabanda/message/766].

 Posted by at 8:03 am