Methi Malai Matar (Peas and fenugreek leaves in a cashew curry)

Methi Malai Matar

I generally resort to this dish when I am out of fresh veggies and just have frozen peas in the fridge. Mostly have dry methi (fenugreek) leaves and cream at home. Or in desperate times, the cream can be substituted for full fat milk. Fenugreek or methi leaves have a unique bitter taste that I have learned to love.

 

Also, this one is a mildly flavored curry, with no need to add the usual curry spices like coriander, turmeric, amchoor or chili powder. Even the salt added to this recipe should be less than other curries. The richness of cashews, along with sweet taste from green peas and the hint of bitterness from fenugreek leaves, make this dish unique.

 

Although the dish turns out better with fresh methi, but since it is difficult to source fresh methi throughout the year, I use the dried leaves and the dish still turns out great.

 

Ingredients:

–          10-12 pieces of cashew

–          1 large onion

–          2-3 pieces of garlic

–          1 small piece of ginger

–          1 tablespoon tomato puree concentrate (or half cup tomato puree)

–          1 cup fresh or frozen peas

–          ¼ cup dry methi leaves (or 1 cup fresh methi leaves, washed and chopped)

–          1 teaspoon jeera

–          a couple of green chilies (optional)

–          2-3 cloves, 1 small piece of cinnamon, 1 Black cardamom, 8-10  peppercorns  (or garam masala  1 teaspoon)

–          Fresh cream for garnishing (or coconut cream for a dairy free option)

–          1 teaspoon of sugar

–          1 tablespoon Ghee

Method:

–          Soak the cashew in warm water for 15 minutes

IMG_0268

–          Cut the onion in large chunks and boil in just enough water to cover it. Boil it for 10 minutes or till it changes colour

IMG_0272

–          Throw the water and grind the onion and cashew into a smooth paste

IMG_0274

–          I use baby peas which just need a boil to soften. But if the peas you use are hard, you can boil them separately till tender.

–          Lightly crush the cloves, peppercorns, cardamom and cinnamon. Alternatively, you can also use garam masala

–          Heat ghee in a pan and add jeera and crushed spices. Roast for a few seconds

IMG_0280

–          Add onion and cashew paste

IMG_0284

–          Saute the paste for 7-10 minutes on medium heat till the raw smell is gone and onions change colour slightly

IMG_0285

–          Add ginger garlic paste, a couple of green chilies (optional) and sauté for a couple of minutes

IMG_0287

–          Add tomato puree and a couple to tablespoons of water and sauté

IMG_0288

IMG_0289

–          Next add green peas, the washed methi and a teaspoon of sugar and boil

IMG_0291

IMG_0292

–          Add one cup of water, salt to taste and simmer for 5-10 minutes

IMG_0293

IMG_0294

–          Garnish with fresh cream and serve hot with roti, naan or rice

IMG_0295

Tips:

The limited pantry stock notwithstanding, the dish with its rich cashew gravy and unique flavors is fit for royalty.

 

Note that in case of cashew gravies, it is better to add salt at the end, along with water to avoid the gravy from separating

 

Once you have tried this dish a couple of times, there are many different variations possible and you can easily customize it as per your tastes. For instance:

–          You can omit the sugar in the dish if the peas are sweet already or add one teaspoon of sugar while boiling the peas itself;

–          Some people also like to omit tomatoes in this dish and have a white curry for a restaurant like look, and also if you are having it as a side dish. But I like this dish with tomatoes because the it tastes more “complete” in flavor especially if it is the main gravy and not just a side dish;

–      For a dairy free option, fresh cream can be replaced with coconut cream;

–          Instead of a cup of water, we can also add a cup for milk for the gravy, but I believe that with cashew puree and garnish with the cream later, the dish becomes sufficiently rich and just right.

Advertisements

The Facebook Face-off

There is an undertone of mini-wars happening right under our noses and this time it is personal. In ancient times, there were websites and forums where people with access to internet connections and a desire to share their wisdom would offer advice, suggestions on various topics to various people. There was a degree of anonymity here afforded by long distances and fake usernames. A lady sitting in Italy advising a gentleman sitting in Beijing on a pizza recipe can hardly be called personal interaction.  This encourages free speech and expression of honest opinions  (at least theoretically).

 

And then now we have Facebook and FB groups. These forums are more ‘topic’ specific (like recommended restaurants, schools, local laundry etc) and in many cases localized – right from city-based to downright the courtyard of your apartment building. In places like Hong Kong, where everybody knows everybody, it gets personal. I have myself stared into faces of unknown passersby, wondering on which FB group did I see that person.  My apologies to all those who went into the restrooms to check their appearance after having been at the receiving end of my stares.

 

Then these FB groups also show the faces of their most recent visitors. So given that I portray myself as an extremely busy person, I need to take care not to visit any group too often to let my acquaintances know that I spend so much time on these, maybe once every hour or so is reasonable.

 

On one hand, being localized, these groups can be immensely useful, from providing know how on where to get the smart phone repaired cheaply to selling household furniture and old books, on the other hand a minor difference in opinions can lead to a virtual war of words and before you know it, you would have lost all your friends in the apartment building where you stay.

 

Now, the people browsing these groups can be categorized as below, note that the categories are not mutually exclusive. I would probable fall into a few myself.

–          The Browser: merely to get the latest info, look into what friends are upto and too scared of the “judgemental” to offer any advice or comments.

–          The Actively involved:  They have a lot to say and they do. These are the ones who keep threads alive for really long long time even after the initial query has been long forgotten.

–          The Locals: self explanatory

–          The Expats: This is a very arguable category. Technically/ logically, it should contain people who are .. .well.. expatriates, but mostly categorized as Caucasians. The local Caucasians get pulled into the category inadvertently, and the expats of other ethnicities barely make it.

–          The Open books: These are happy and sharing souls. They love to share their stories, experiences, menu plans, where they went for a pedicure, what they had for lunch etc. Probably got bored of doing this on the FB walls, so decided to enlighten the FB group members.

–          The Sentimental:  This is the most special category. They offer no advice but like to comment:  “no advice but your baby is so cute”, “I don’t have an advise, but my heart goes out to you because your fingernail broke”…. They keep the sentiments alive in the virtual world.

–          And finally, the Judgemental: Inevitable in all public forums, ready to pounce upon people who offer any ‘less than legal’ advice, send junk food in lunch boxes or suggest that the helper would would have to sleep on a floor mattress or cannot join them at their dinner table. This is the scary lot, sometimes confused with ‘the expats’. Personally, I can NEVER relate to this category,  judging, categorizing and generalizing! It is preposterous!

 

The verdict on whether the Facebook groups have beaten the television soaps and the girlfriend brunches on popularity is still not out. Personally for me, the time spent on these groups is probably not much, but then I have a good reading speed.

 

Any comments or hate mails on the above views are welcome. For the comments, click below and for hate mail please send to me personally at fakeid@anonymous.com.

 

An Introduction to Lentils: Lentils 101

Being vegetarians, my family has always had lentils as the main source of protein. Although lentils (or Daal) form a part of our daily diet, we do not consume the same type of lentils every day. There is a huge variety of lentils available and each of them can be prepared in a number of ways.

Nevertheless, every household would generally have a few of their favourite lentils and I am giving below a basic introduction on various lentils that I mostly use (and ordinarily we do use a good selection of them). I have deliberately excluded Beans (Kidney Beans, Chickpeas, Black eyed beans etc) from the explanation below, because these are generally better understood than lentils and commonly used around the world. In any case, Beans are actually Legumes, just as Lentils are.

Types of Lentils

If you are new to cooking lentils, it is best to start with the Green Gram (Moong) or Split Red Gram (Arhar), as these are the easiest to handle and take on the flavours of spices well.

Moong Daal (Green Gram): Whole, Split and Washed
Moong Daal Whole (Green Gram, whole): The most nutritious of all lentils, it goes well with rice or flat breads (chappati). It can also be sprouted easily. These lentils are unhulled & whole and need a longer time to cook than the split or wash variety. The cooking time can be slightly reduced by soaking in water for at least 15 minutes before cooking. With high fiber content, the Daal is very filling. Moong Daal soup is also very good for detox and weight loss. Also, for the purpose of sprouting, Moong Daal is probably the most nutritious and easiest.

Moong Daal, Whole (Green Gram, whole)

Moong Daal, Whole (Green Gram, whole)

Moong Daal Split (Split Green Gram): This is the green gram split, but not skinned. Next to whole moong in nutrition, it takes less time to cook and is easier to digest. Can also be cooked along with Spinach to enhance its nutritional value. It is also very commonly used to make Khichri (a kind of stew or congee made with lentils and rice). Cheelas (Savoury pancakes) made out of split green lentils are also a common breakfast in some parts of India.

Moong Daal Split (Green Gram Split)

Moong Daal Split (Green Gram Split)

Moong Daal Wash (Washed Green Gram/ Hulled Green Gram/ Yellow Moong Gram): These have had the husk removed, generally yellow in colour and the fastest to cook, even if not soaked. These can also be used to make small vadas/ dumplings, although the Urad wash daal is more popular for vadas. But vadas made out of Moong daal are lighter than the Urad daal. These lentils can be used to make cheelas or yummy moong daal halwa (pudding).

Moong Daal Wash (Washed Green Gram)

Moong Daal Wash (Washed Green Gram)

Because of its high nutrition value and easy to digest Moong daal soups and khichri are an ideal food for the sick and people who are recovering from illness.

Arhar Daal/ Toovar Daal (Split Pigeon Pea)
Toovar Daal has a very thick, smooth consistency when cooked and is probably the most popular daal throughout India. Low fat, cholesterol free and rich in vitamins and minerals, it can be used to make simple daal or aromatic sambhar, delicious khichri and tangy rasam to go along with idlis. Although it can be prepared in many ways, the daal tastes great even just with a simple tempering of ghee, asafoetida (hing), cumin (jeera) and chili.

Arhar Daal (Split Pigeon Peas)

Arhar Daal (Split Pigeon Peas)

Chana Daal (Split Bengal Gram)
Chana Daal is generally prepared in combination with other daals like urad wash or urad split or with vegetables like bottle gourd, squashes or spinach. It has a rich texture and low glycemic index. It is however, heavier to digest than the Green Gram.

Chana Daal (Split Bengal Gram)

Chana Daal (Split Bengal Gram)

The flour of Bengal Gram, Besan, is also widely used and easily available at all Indian grocery stores. It is useful as a binding or thickening agent, and also used for making fritters or pakoras and dhoklas. It is also very easy to prepare cheelas and halwa out of Split Bengal Gram flour.

Bengal Gram Flour (Besan)

Bengal Gram Flour (Besan)

Masoor Daal ( Pink Lentils)
Masoor Daal is another popular and nutritious daal, rich in dietary fiber, protein and iron. It is used in both whole and washed varieties. Washed Massor (Pink Lentils) are sometimes used as a substitute for Arhar Daal because it is generally cheaper than Arhar daal. We generally prefer to use the Masoor Whole in our kitchen.

Masoor Daal, whole (Pink Lentils, whole)

Masoor Daal, whole (Pink Lentils, whole)

Urad Daal (Black Gram): Whole, Split and Washed
Urad Daal, whole (Black Gram, whole): Black gram provides proteins, fat and carbohydrates and also contains iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and B vitamins. It is very popular in North India. Well known as Daal Makhani, it takes the longest to cook. However, urad daal is heavier to digest than most other lentils and causes bloating. It is best to cook these with ginger and garlic to aid digestion. Urad Daal must be soaked for an hour before cooking and change the water before boiling the daal. I also like to keep removing the froth that forms while boiling the daal.

Urad Whole Daal (Black Gram Whole)

Urad Whole Daal (Black Gram Whole)

Urad Daal, split (Black Gram, split): Probably, less popular than the other daals, it is generally prepared in combination with other daals like the Bengal Gram. Like Urad whole, urad split is also heavy and must be cooked with ginger and garlic to aid digestion.

Urad Daal Split (Black Gram Split)

Urad Daal, wash (Black Gram, washed): As a daal, it has almost a bland flavour, and generally prepared in combination with Bengal Gram. The Daal tastes delicious when prepared with ginger, garlic and onion, amongst other spices. It is more commonly used in South India, where it is ground to a paste and used to make dosa, idli and vadas.

While preparing the ever popular Khichri, generally Moong daal is preferred because it is easier to digest, but Khichri prepared with urad daal also has its unique benefits. This Khichri, eaten with a lot of ghee (clarified butter) helps clean the digestive track.

Urad Wash Daal (Black Gram Washed)

Urad Wash Daal (Black Gram Washed)

Buying and Storage
– It is always better to cook dried lentils. Freshly cooked lentils taste much better than the canned ones.
– When purchasing, one must see that the lentil pack does not have powdered lentils or dust at the bottom of the pack or the lentils do not have tiny holes in them. These are both indicators that lentils are already infested with worms.
– Lentils must be stored in air tight containers, in a cool dark place and away from moisture.
– Avoid using wet hands or spoons to scoop the lentils from its container. Especially the whole/ unhulled versions are more prone to getting infested.
– Dried lentils, when stored properly, have an indefinite shelf life, but ideally should be consumed within one year. Also, in case of the “whole” varieties, it would be better if these are bought in smaller quantities and consumed within a few months.
– Lastly, when stocking a new pack of lentils, they must be stored in a separate container and not mixed with the old lentils, even if they are the same variety.

Basic Cooking techniques:
For a very basic and quick preparation, take a bowl of lentils, clean, wash and soak for 15 minutes. Next cook with salt and half a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Next heat a couple of tablespoons of Ghee in a separate pan and add a pinch of asefotida (hing) and a teaspoon of cumin seeds. Once the cumin splutters, add a couple of tablespoons of tomato puree, chili powder as per taste and half a teaspoon of garam masala and sauté for a few minutes. Add this tempering to the boiled lentils and serve hot with another sprinkle of ghee and fresh coriander on top. This basic recipe should work with most daals.

Another easy and popular method is to skip the tomatoes as well. This works well with Moong Wash and Arhar daal: take 2 tablespoons of Ghee in a pan and warm it, add asafetida & cumin seeds (or mustard seeds). Once the cumin splurts, lower the heat and add red chili powder. Let it roast taking care not to burn it (it should not turn black). Sprinkle this ghee generously over a bowl of boiled lentils, sprinkle fresh coriander leaves and serve immediately with steamed rice or flat breads.

As a general indication, the moong daals tend to be slightly bland as compared to other daals, so need some spicing up with ginger, onions and tomatoes. The urad daals tend to cause gas and bloating so must be cooked with some ginger and garlic. The arhar/ toor daal is very popular and richer in taste than other daals. It can even be had with a simple tendering of ghee, cumin or mustard seeds and chilli powder.

Tips:
– Lentils have a low fat content and a good source of protein, vitamin B complex, potassium and several other nutrients.
– All lentils must be soaked in water before cooking . This not only reduces the cooking time, but also makes the lentils somewhat easier to digest.
– People with a tendency of acidity or bloating should avoid urad daal before bedtime. But moong daal is easier to digest and can be had for dinner as well.
– Important to wash the lentils several times before cooking. I generally soak them and then wash several times until the water is clear and not cloudy anymore.
– For western recipes, try adding half a cup of par-boiled lentils to salads or soups, or simply add sprouted lentils to daily breakfast.

Lentils are low in fat, a powerhouse of nutrition and very easy to cook. They can be consumed as a main dish with rice, or as a comfort food like Khichri.  Sprouting makes the lentils easier to digest and these can be easily sprouted at home. Lentils take on the flavours of spices well and can be easily combined with veggies to make a filling and healthy meal. Vegan, dairy free and gluten free, lentils are a much have for any household.

Kesar Pista Kulfi (Indian Saffron and Pistachio Icecream)

Kulfi is a must have in my refrigerator during the entire summer. It is easy to prepare and an indulgent dessert always available for unexpected guests. I usually prepare it when I am already cooking in the kitchen and there is one gas hob that I don’t need to use. I like to make the kulfi with a few basic ingredients and without adding any corn flour or bread. It also helps if we want to eat it during fasts, without worrying about corn flour or bread.

Just let the milk thicken, occasionally scrapping off the dried milk from the sides of the pan into the simmering milk and the milk gets the wonderful “kulfi texture”. I have also tried a quick version with condensed milk or evaporated milk and cream, but the kulfi tastes more like an ice cream and does not have the authentic kulfi taste.

Ingredients:
– 1.5 Litre of full cream milk
– pistachios, a handful
– saffron, around half teaspoon
– Sugar, 200g (or as per taste)

Method:
– Take a heavy bottom pan and put in the milk on a high flame

IMG_0174

– Let the milk come to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer for about an hour.

IMG_0178

IMG_0125

– You need to stir the milk every 5-7 minutes and keep scrapping the dried milk from the sides of the pan into the boiling milk. This dried milk mixed with the milk, once frozen gives the kulfi its unique texture

IMG_0182

– Once the milk has reduced by more than half, it would change its colour as well.

IMG_0126

– Add the saffron powder. If you are using the saffron strands, you can dilute them separately in a little milk and add it to the simmering milk. Turn off the gas and let it cool slightly for around 10 minutes

IMG_0176

IMG_0190

– Add the sugar to the milk (still warm, but not hot) and mix till dissolved

IMG_0191

– Crush the pistachio and add
IMG_0180

IMG_0184

IMG_0197

– Freeze in a container with lid (or in Kulfi moulds) and serve once frozen after 6-8 hours

IMG_0200

Tips:
– Washing the pan before putting in the milk would help avoid the milk from sticking at the bottom of the pan
– Using a flat pan will help the milk evaporate faster
– It’s better to a use either a non- reactive pan like ceramic or a cast iron pan, since we need to scrap off the dried milk from the edges into the milk and do not want any unwanted chemicals like aluminum in the kulfi.
– You can easily change the favour by adding cardamom and almonds in place of saffron and pistachio. Alternatively, try adding half cup mango pulp after completely cooling off the milk for mango kulfi.

The “Plight” of a Hong Kong Housewife

Like many dutiful wives, quit my job and moved to the ever vibrant and dynamic Hong Kong with Husband. Hubby got a career boost; I decided to stay back, spend some more time with our son in his growing years and got awarded a chic new title of “Stay at Home Mum (SAHM)”.

Although, I must admit there are times when I do miss the work life, the sense of achievement after a productive day and the monthly pay cheques didn’t feel too bad either! Think my wardrobe also misses the slick and smart formal outfits. But then once the priorities are straightened out, it is easier to accept the new “work life” at home.

During my first trip back home, when the extended family learned that I am now a SAHM, the most common response, “What! You are not working?” “So you sleep the entire afternoon”, “OMG, what do you do the entire day, don’t you get bored”… etc.

Now, Hong Kong is an extremely efficient place. It probably gives you a lot more for your time, than most cities. That also means that you can be as busy with your time as you choose to be. It may sound like a bit of an exaggeration initially, but it does not take very long to get caught up in the Hong Kong lifestyle. All in all there is much more to the life of a “Tai Tai” than meets the eye.

So for all those newbies and people proposing to move here, here’s a rundown on what a normal Hong Kong SAHM’s week may involve:

– Starting with the routine household chores like managing the kitchen, laundry, household finances. (busy husbands deliberately make the SAHM in charge of the finance part, so they know the financial position and stick to window shopping only. At least they hope so) ;

– For those of us who have a helper, replace part of the above with finding, managing and retaining a helper;

– In addition to helping the kids with the regular school work, managing various extracurricular activities. It is very easy in Hong Kong to get swept away with the “Tiger mums phenomena” and there may be days when there is more than one after school class. And it is a task scheduling these, arranging pickups and drops offs and managing to squeeze play dates and birthday parties in between. Expat mums also need to organize and coordinate various events to ensure the kids get an exposure to the home culture;

– Of course, since at the back of your mind you may consider yourself not doing anything “productive” with your time, you decide to enroll yourself for some part time course. You can choose from the prestigious HK University to a plethora of Institutes offering various vocational or even hobby courses;

– Then there are seminars to be attended, fairs to be visited (Hong Kong has the most wonderful Jewellery and gems fairs), various shows to be seen;

– There are hair and spa appointments to be managed. And this in not just vanity, but a bare minimum upkeep of self as demanded by the chic city;

– Hong Kong is also a tech-savvy place. There are blogs you may start (ahem!!) to share expertise on visa, travel, Hong Kong Restaurants, Hong Kong Labour Laws etc and a huge bombardment of information that needs to be sorted. From the latest courses for kids to that absolutely new restaurant or the online organic delivery firm you have to try!

The list goes on to include holiday planning, hosting overseas guests, volunteer work etc. As a silver lining, there is not much of Spring cleaning to do since one may be moving so often to a new rented apartment, that you get a nicely cleaned home once every alternate year anyway!

And one needs to appreciate that with the routine life so busy, it is only rarely that the SAHM gets a chance to admire the coastal skyline of Hong Kong from the terrace of Isola. The glass of champagne in hand is merely to help one forget the smog and admire the subtle hues.

 

PS: When a friend recently came over for dinner and I showed her my blog very proudly… She read this article as I patiently waited for her response. After a while she responded, “So nice that you write a blog… It must keep you busy”.

Banana Skin Recipe

I would like to start my blog with the humble recipe of a side dish made out of Banana Skin. This recipe, passed to me from my MIL, reminds me of the story from the Indian epic “Mahabharata”, where out of sheer love and devotion towards Lord Krishna, Vidura and his wife are so mesmerized by his presence that they offer him the Banana skin instead of the banana to eat…and the Lord eats the Banana skin happily, since they were offered with such love.

Sometimes the fruit that we buy looks so fresh and beautiful that it is such a shame not be able to use the skin as well. So we can make a spicy side dish out of the peels of banana. Note that this recipe comes out nice with freshly peeled Banana skin. It does not keep well even when refrigerated. They need to be fresh and crisp, from nice ripe bananas. Even better to use organic bananas. High in potassium, fiber and several other nutrients, the skin of bananas have probably more nutrition than the fruit itself.

Ingredients:

  • Skin of two freshly peeled Bananas
  • Mustard oil (or any other vegetable oil)- 1 tbsp.
  • Cumin Seeds – 1/2 tsp.
  • Coriander powder – 1 tsp
  • Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp.
  • Chili powder – 1 tsp. (or to taste)
  • Dry mango powder (amchoor) – 1 tsp.
  • salt to taste

Alternatively, you can replace the coriander, turmeric and chili powder with curry powder.

Method:
– Chop the banana skins into small pieces
photo 25

– Heat the oil in a wok and then add cumin
– Add the chopped banana skin and fry on medium heat for about two minutes on medium heat. Stir continuously

photo 24
– Add salt and keep stirring for another minute
– Add coriander powder, chili powder and turmeric powder. Stir and cover with a lid for 5-7 minutes

photo 21
– Remove the lid and cook uncovered for a few minutes. You can put on the lid again for 2 minutes if the skins are not yet cooked
– Finally add the amchoor powder and remove to a serving dish

photo 13
photo 16

– Serve as a side dish with chapatis/ naan and gravies.

photo 9

Tips: Similar side dishes can also be made out of peels from fresh peas & thick peels of ridge gourd.