Kakarakaya fry!

Kakarakaya or karela or bitter gourd is one of my favorite vegetables…not many people like it because it is bitter but the more bitter it is the more I like it.  It is my dad’s favorite too…more than the regular bitter gourd we get he used to love adavi kakarakaya which literally translates to forest bitter gourd – grown in the wild not commonly cultivated.  He used to work in villages surrounding our town – he was a headmaster at public schools – and every once in a while he used to find these wild bitter gourds sold in the villages and he would bring them home for my mom to cook and those times there would be pure joy on his face…he would even sit with my mom to clean the vegetables.  Lucky for him my mom was a great cook – he would have been a very unhappy man if that were not the case.  I cannot make bitter gourd and not think of my dad.  As is the case with any vegetable you can cook this vegetable several different ways but the easiest is a simply fry.  My favorite dish of this vegetable is stuffed with spices and cooked as whole…I need to make that some time.

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Ingredients:

  • Bitter gourd – 4
  • Oil – 4 tbsp*
  • Mustard seeds – 1/8 tsp
  • Cumin seeds – 1/8 tsp
  • Chana dal – 1/2 tsp
  • Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
  • Red chillies – 1
  • Garlic – 1 clove
  • Curry leaves – a few
  • Dry coconut powder – 1 1/2 tbsp
  • Turmeric – 1/8 tsp
  • Red chilli powder – 1 to 2 tsps
  • Coriander powder – 1/2 tsp

Method:

  1. Wash and peel bitter gourds; slice them into thin circles**.  If the seeds are too hard discard them (I like the crunch of the seeds)
  2. Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds; when mustard seeds splatter add cumin, chana dal, urad dal and red chilli; cook until the seasoning browns
  3. Add bitter gourd and curry leaves; add turmeric, salt and mix well.  Reduce the flame to medium and cook until bitter gourd becomes soft.  Keep stirring so it won’t burn; meanwhile grind coconut powder, red chilli powder, garlic and a pinch of cumin to a coarse powder
  4. When it is almost cooked add the ground coconut powder, coriander powder and mix well; cook for a few more minutes.

*This takes quite a bit of oil.  This is usually served as a condiment to eat with rice and sambar or dal and hence is more like chips.  My mom sometimes deep fries the gourd pieces and sprinkles them with salt and chilli powder

**Another way of making this is dicing the gourd into 1/2 inch pieces.  I prefer to cut them into circles.

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Black Bean Brownies!

The concept of hiding vegetables in plain sight by mixing pureed vegetables into kids’ favorite dishes is not new but I haven’t tried it much.  When I saw a recipe for black bean brownies in a Parade magazine I was curious enough to try it.  We bake brownies quite regularly and I usually stock up on brownie mix from Costco so I was all set with the ingredients.  This recipe from Joy Bauer’s “From Junk Food to Joy Food” is pretty simple and the kids were fooled.  They do think it tastes different but the black beans went unnoticed.  The brownies were less sweet because of the addition of beans but otherwise texture and appearance was the same.  Not bad at all for all the extra protein and fiber you get.

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Recipe from Parade magazine:

Ingredients:

  • Brownie mix – 1 18 oz box
  • Black beans – 1 15 oz can
  • Eggs – 1 large beaten (optional)

Method:

  1. After draining and rinsing, return beans to can, adding enough water to cover. Place beans and water in a blender; puree
  2. Combine bean puree and brownie mix in a mixing bowl
  3. Add egg if you want a softer, spongier consistency
  4. Mix thoroughly and bake according to box directions

Notes: I used Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix.  I also added egg to black beans and pureed it all together.  Baking is an exact science and beating the egg vs putting it in a blender might make a difference – Alton Brown would know and elaborate – but blending it was more convenient 🙂

Green Tomato Pachadi!

You give people from Andhra – a southern state in India – any vegetable and they will make a pachadi (pickle) out of it.  Traditional pickles – called ooragaya – have longer shelf life and do not need to be refrigerated but roti pachadi made from fresh vegetables do not.  Traditional pickles are also made from chicken, mutton and shrimp…so I guess give us any vegetable and some meats and we make pickles out of it. Pickles – both kinds – are usually used as a condiment…a palate enhancer!  Green tomatoes are most suited for roti pachadi given its sour taste.

This is my mom’s standard recipe…she basically prepares most vegetable pachadis this way.  This is not, however, an authentic roti pachadi recipe.  These green tomatoes came from my sister-in-law’s garden so it was special 🙂

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Ingredients:

  • Green tomatoes – 2 chopped into big pieces
  • Onion – 1 small chopped into big pieces (optional)
  • Green chillies – 12 small (adjust to your spice level)
  • Coriander leaves – 1/4 bunch
  • Peanuts – 1 tbsp
  • Fresh grated coconut – 1 tbsp
  • Oil – 1 tsp + 1 tbsp
  • Garlic cloves – 3
  • Curry leaves – few
  • Mustard seeds – 1/8 tsp
  • Cumin seeds – 1/4 + 1/8 tsp
  • Chana dal – 1/4 tsp
  • Urad dal – 1/4 tsp
  • Red chillies – 1
  • Tamarind – 1/2 tbsp soaked in a tbsp of water

Method:

  1. Combine tomatoes, onions, green chillies, peanuts, coconut, 2 garlic cloves, 1/4 tsp of cumin seeds and about 2 tbsp water in a sauce pan
  2. Cook the mixture on medium-low heat…tomatoes should have enough water in them but keep stirring so not to burn the vegetables and add a tbsp of water if it seems very dry
  3. When the tomatoes soften and the water is almost gone add a tsp of oil and coriander leaves; increase the heat and saute until the coriander wilts and the raw smell of tomatoes goes away; turn off the heat
  4. Let it cool down.  Add soaked tamarind to the mix and grind to a coarse paste*
  5. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a small pan and when the oil is hot add mustard seeds; when mustard seeds splatter add cumin seeds, chana dal and urad dal; when they brown add 1 garlic clove, red chilli and curry leaves
  6. Pour over the pachadi to season it and serve with hot rice

*Pachadis are traditionally made with a mortar and pestle…so they have a very coarse texture.  With the use of blenders pachadis do lose some of the flavor that comes from grinding on the stone especially the texture.  So pulse the mix or blend it carefully so it is not too smooth in texture

Zucchini curry!

A quick and easy zucchini curry that can be served with rice or rotis…best for week nights when dinner should have been on the table half hour ago.  I usually pair zucchini with lentils to make daal or pair it with tomatoes to make curry.  Been planning to experiment with a couple other variations…there are plenty inspirations on the web…hopefully, will get around to it soon.

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Ingredients:

  • Zucchini – around 2 lbs diced with the skin on
  • Frozen peas or corn – 1/2 cup thawed in microwave for a minute
  • Onion – 1 small diced
  • Tomatoes – 2 small diced
  • Ginger garlic paste – 1/2 tsp
  • Mustard seeds – 1/8 tsp
  • Cumin seeds – 1/8 tsp
  • Curry leaves – a few
  • Coriander leaves – a few sprigs
  • Coriander powder – 1 tsp
  • Red chilli powder – 1 tsp (adjust to your taste)
  • Salt – to taste
  • Turmeric powder – 1/8 tsp
  • Garam masala – a pinch (optional)
  • Oil – 2 tbsp

Method:

  1. Heat oil and add mustard seeds; when they splatter add cumin seeds and fry for a few seconds
  2. Add onion and curry leaves; saute until onions brown slightly
  3. Add turmeric powder and ginger garlic paste; saute until the raw smell of ginger garlic paste goes away…for about 30 seconds
  4. Add thawed peas or corn; mix well, reduce the flame to medium high, cover with a lid and cook for a minute
  5. Add tomatoes, mix well and cook for a few minutes until the tomatoes become soft.  Keep stirring so it won’t burn
  6. Add salt, chilli powder and coriander powder and cook for a few seconds
  7. Add zucchini and mix well.  Reduce flame to medium and cover with lid
  8. Cook until zucchini is soft; keep stirring in between so it won’t burn.  There should be enough water coming out of zucchini and tomatoes but if it looks dry add a few tbsp of water
  9. Add coriander leaves and garam masala; mix well and cook for a minute more

Chicken Vepudu!

Naatu Kodi vepudu which translates to country chicken fry is a popular delicacy where I come from.  I don’t make chicken vepudu all that often but every once in a while I crave it.  Vepudu means a dry saute and this kind of dish goes very well as a accompaniment to sambar or daal.  This dish usually does not last till meal time in our house – we keep eating chicken pieces from the pan as we walk through the kitchen so I try  to hide it  as soon as I make it 🙂

It is a quick and simple dish to make and is quite a tasty side dish too.

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Ingredients:

  • Whole chicken – cut up in small pieces
  • Onions – 2 medium diced
  • Green chillies – 4 slit
  • Methi leaves – 1/2 cup (optional)*
  • Bay leaves – 1 or 2
  • Curry leaves – about 10
  • Coriander leaves – a few sprigs
  • Ginger-garlic paste – 3 tsps
  • Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Red chilli powder – 2 tsps (or more or less to suit your taste)
  • Coriander powder – 1/2 tbsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Curd – 3 tbsp (optional)
  • Cashews – a handful (optional)
  • Garam masala – 1 tsp
  • Oil – 4 – 5 tbsp

Method:

  1. Wash chicken and marinate in turmeric powder, red chilli powder, salt, coriander powder and curds for about half hour.  Marinate the chicken in a wide saute pan that can go on to the stove
  2. Cook the marinated chicken; keep stirring so the bottom won’t stick.  The chicken will have enough water in it and the curds will also release water so there will quite a bit of water to cook the chicken in; cook until the chicken is almost done.  The water should evaporate but if there is some left that is fine
  3. Meanwhile heat oil and season with bay leaf; add cashews if using and when they brown add onions with curry leaves and slit green chillies
  4. Cook onions until they brown and add ginger garlic paste; saute until the paste is fried – about a few seconds – and add methi leaves; cook until the leaves soften…about a minute more
  5. Add the cooked chicken – along with any water left – and saute on high heat until the onion masala coats the chicken evenly and all the water evaporates.  Adjust salt and red chilli powder
  6. Add garam masala powder and coriander leaves.  Stir well and cook for a minute more
  7. Serve with rice and sambar or daal

*I usually get fresh methi, pick the leaves, wash them and freeze them.  Methi leaves can be added to almost everything – they lend a distinct flavor and aroma to non-vegetarian dishes – and so I have them handy in the freezer.  Dried leaves can be used too instead of fresh leaves but please reduce the quantities of dried leaves used since they are more concentrated than fresh leaves.