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Shallots Pickle

I have never really made pickles by myself – both my amma and mother in law make pickles for us while they are here or package all the way from Bangalore. But we finish these batches of pickles so fast that there are a few  days when there’s not much in the house and if like me you’ve grown up eating pickle rice, food just doesn’t feel the same.  A couple of days back when we ran out of our favourite shallot pickle, I decided to make some on my own. 

The flavour of this pickle comes from the mild sweetness of the shallots, combined with the sourness of tamarind and the fierceness of red chillies.  It smells so gorgeous and tastes so delicious that I have atleast a couple of spoons of rice mixed with this pickle almost everyday. 

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Makes: enough to fit in a 750 ml container

Preparation time: 30 minutes, Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • Shallots – 3 cups (peeled, washed and patted dry)
  • Tamarind – 1 cup 
  • Red Chillies – 1 1/2 cups (increase or decrease to taste)
  • Turmeric – 1 tsp
  • Hing – 1/4 tsp  
  • Fenugreek seeds (dry) – 3 tsp 
  • Salt – 2 tbsp (adjust to taste) 
  • Sesame Oil/ Olive Oil – 6 tbsp

Method

  1. Soak the tamarind in hot water for 10 minutes. You will need water just enough to immerse the tamarind. Depending on whether you soak the tamarind in a flat broad vessel or a deeper vessel, you will need about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water.  
  2. On a medium flame, heat 1 tbsp of oil and saute the shallots until they turn pink.  Set aside to cool. 
  3. On a medium flame, dry roast the fenugreek seeds, cool for somtime and grind to a fine powder. 
  4. Drain the tamarind and reserve the water. 
  5. Grind shallots, tamarind, red chillies, salt and turmeric together to a paste of spoonable consistency adding the reserved water as required to aid in grinding. 
  6. Heat the remaining oil in a pan. Add the paste and cook uncovered on a low flame stirring frequently in between until the paste is well cooked and loses all its water content. Keep only on a low flame, do not increase flame at all. This should take about 30 minutes or more depending on the water content of your paste. The pickle is cooked when it turns a deeper shade of brown.  Take off flame, add the powdered fenugreek and mix well. 

Refrigerate in a air tight container. Keeps well for several months. 

 

Shallots Pickle – for the Recipe Marathon

Fellow recipe marathoners:

DKSiriSrivalliRanjiPJCurry LeafMedhaPriyaBhawnaRaajiRuchii
AnuKamalaRoopaDivya KuduaRekhaDivya MRaagaLakshmi VenkateshSripriyaVijiKamalika,Pavani, RoochiKaruna

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We get a great amount of user feedback on recipes that we post here – many with success, some with disappointment. Those who are disappointed comes in three categories

  • the ones whose expectations of a dish and taste preferences for a dish vary from ours and therefore need a different proportion of ingredients
  • the ones who acknowledge that they have perhaps gone wrong somewhere and need more practice and look for suggestions and insights
  • and the ones who like to squarely blame it on the recipe because recipes are supposed to work like magic in anybody’s hands

The last category are people who assume that they know what is “wrong” with the recipe for a dish, that they are yet to master themselves, with the research that they do on the internet. We get hilarious sermons on how we should mention that the batter for dishA requires fermentation and how we should increase proportion of urad dal in dishB because otherwise the recipe won’t rather can’t work. Some of them may not know what is wrong, but declare the inefficacy of the recipe in the choicest words possible and we have heard very strange things like a 10 oz of dark chocolate refusing to absorb 1/4 of cup of butter and milk bursting at the 3rd minute the in the microwave. Of course, our unhappy souls find it easier to throw common sense out of the window and blame everything squarely on the recipe.

We’d like to reiterate the one thing that we keep saying on this blog. Cooking is more than following proportions given in a recipe, its about practice. Cooking is more than just method, its about the smaller things behind the method – like gauging the right amount of kneading for a recipe or understanding the nature of your ingredients.

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I recently made cinnamon cookies following Amma’s basic cookie dough recipe which yields her “melt in mouth” cookies and gave me not so much melt in mouth but yet very tasty cookies. I followed the exact same basic cookie dough recipe she uses. The difference is that she’s been making cookies for 25 years which were once declared the best in the world by a chef at Taj, while I have been baking cookies for barely a few months. I made a batch recently with cinnamon flavour, they turned out well, just not as fabulous as Amma’s.

Makes: 30-40 cookies (will vary with cookie cutter size or how big you shape them)

Ingredients

  • All Purpose Flour – 1 1/2 cups
  • Butter – 1/2 cup
  • Sugar – 1/2 cup
  • Cinnamon – 1 inch piece (skip for plain cookies or add your own flavouring)

Method
1. Powder the sugar and cinnamon stick to a fine powder.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
3. Add all purpose flour and knead well to form a dough. The dough should neither be wet nor very dry and hard. In case the dough feels too dry add a tablespoon or two or butter. Add some more flour if dough feels too wet.
4. Pat the dough into a flat disc, cover with a plastic foil and refrigerate overnight for 8-12 hours.
5. Take dough out from the fridge. Roll out the dough to about quarter of inch in thickness and cut into shapes using cookies cutters. Or shape into cicular discs with hand.
6. Bake at 220 C for 10-15 minutes until creamish brown.

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Notes:

  • The butter in the recipe can be replaced with ghee for a dough that can be baked immediately. 
  • The melt in mouth texture for the cookies develops only through practice. Kneading for about 5-10 minutes improves the texture of cookies greatly.

Cinnamon Cookies – for the Recipe Marathon

Fellow recipe marathoners:

DKSiriSrivalliRanjiPJCurry LeafMedhaPriyaBhawnaRaajiRuchii
AnuKamalaRoopaDivya KuduaRekhaDivya MRaagaLakshmi VenkateshSripriyaVijiKamalika,Pavani, RoochiKaruna

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Chocolate is soul food for me, chocolate is the most delicious thing on earth. There is no equivalent to the experience of placing a perfectly shiny piece of chocolate on your tongue, letting it melt slowly in your mouth till it goes all around and then chewing it when it becomes too irresistible. I love cooking with chocolate mostly because I end up eating a lot of it neat while chopping.

That said I don’t exactly start my day with hot chocolate – its one of those things I make when I am particularly tired mentally. Every bit of making hot chocolate is invigorating – starting with the aroma of chocolate that is beginning to melt to the whisking of chocolate to a smooth shiny consistency. I like my hot chocolate dark and rich with not too much milk or flavourings.

Ingredients (for one serving of hot chocolate)

  • Dark chocolate – 2 ounces (I use 2 1/2 ounces for darker hot chocolate)
  • Water – 1/4 cup
  • Warm Milk – 1/2 cup (adjust as per taste)
  • Honey – 1 tsp
  • Vanilla extract or flavouring of choice – 1/2 tsp

Method

  1. Chop chocolate with a serrated knife.
  2. Warm water in the microwave for 20 seconds on high. Add chopped chocolate, whisk and microwave on high for 1 minute or so. Stir once in between after the first 30 seconds.
  3. Whisk the chocolate well till its smooth and shiny. Add honey and vanilla and mix well.
  4. Pour into serving cup. Let it cool to lukewarm.
  5. Warm slightly, pour warm milk and serve.

Other Recipe Marathoners:

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Vegetables simmered in a midly flavoured gravy which is usually lentil based is perhaps the closest I can get to describing what a Kootu is. Kootus are the goodness of vegetables with the best combination and right proportion of spices that don’t attack your taste buds with the sourness of a sambar. Kootus come in very handy to answer most of these existential questions one needs to answer in the kitchen, like “What do I cook today?” or “Now what does one do with this vegetable that doesn’t even have a name?”. Kootus come in many avatars – there’s Poricha Kootu, Pal Kootu, Mor Kootu, Puli Kootu, Varutha Araitha Kootu, Araitha Vitta Kootu and Thenga Pal Kootu. And then for flavourings one can add or subtract from the basic spices, toast and grind, toast and simmer or soak and grind. The choice of lentils though usually Moong Dal, could also be Toor Dal or Channa Dal or a combination of dals.

Ash Gourd Kootu

Ingredients

  • Moong Dal – 1/2 cup
  • Vegetable/s – 200-250 gms
  • Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
  • Hing (asafoetida) – 1/4 tsp
  • Mustard Seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Ghee or Oil – 1 tsp

For flavouring, to be toasted and ground

  • Urad Dal – 1 tsp
  • Channa Dal – 1 tsp
  • Coriander Seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Black Peppercorns – 1/4 tsp
  • Red Chillies – 2 nos.
  • Whole Hing (asafoetida) – a small piece
  • Grated Coconut – 2 tbsp (rounded)
  • Ghee or Oil – 1 tsp

Method

  1. Toast all the ingredients for the flavouring paste except coconut in ghee/oil till the dals turn golden. Take off flame and add coconut and keep aside to cool. Blend into a smooth thick paste with a couple of tablespoons of water if required.
  2. Pressure Cook the Moong Dal in enough water. Par boil the vegetables with turmeric and hing in a microwave safe container.
  3. In a deep vessel, heat oil/ ghee pop the mustard seeds, add the vegetables (parboil at this stage if you’re not using the microwave). Add the moong dal followed by the paste. Mix well and simmer on a low flame till the kootu starts to bubble.
  4. Add salt, simmer for an additional minute and take off flame.

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If boiling water and preparing tea don’t count, then you can say pasta is my first ever kitchen experiment. In fact it was the only other dish (apart from stuffed baked potatoes) that I’d prepare on my own almost everyday as an evening snack when I was in college. Yes, you heard it right – an evening snack that served as a one of kind occasion for brother-sister bonding when we’d indulge in the sheer richness and flavour of pastas.

Cooking Pasta is like cooking sadam (rice) – a seemingly simple culinary task that can become quite difficult to master given the long list of criteria for that perfect bite of pasta.

I’ve had my share of “Al Dente” mishaps on a couple of occasions. The first one was when the time I tried Fusilli – I undercooked these interesting worms and tossed them in sauce in my over enthusiasm. Thankfully a few minutes in the microwave fixed the pasta. The second one was the first time I cooked fresh lasagna sheets. It was difficult to distinguish the vegetables. There wasn’t much to salvage this time.

Pasta that is cooked “Al dente”, literally meaning “to the tooth”, is soft but holds shape, chewy but not brittle and well separated but starchy enough for the sauce to stick. Over the several times that I’ve cooked pasta, I’ve acquired the practice enough to confidently prepare “Al Dente” pasta even in the middle of the night.

Method

  1. Take water in a large bring the water to boil. About 4-5 times the amount of pasta is a good measure of how much water one needs. I use 1 litre for 250 gms of spaghetti and some more if its penne or fussili.
  2. Add Salt to the water. About 2 tsp for 250 gms is the amount of salt I use. Not all of the salt will show on the pasta.
  3. Add the pasta to the pot. Drop the pasta in slowly. Lower the heat to medium once pasta has been added. Keep the heat between medium to high. Water needs to be at a heat that keeps it just about agitated to keep the pasta separate, but does not necessarily need to be bubbling.
  4. For the first two minutes stir the Pasta a few times. You can decrease the frequency of stirring after this. In general if you’ve used enough water and if you’re keeping the water at the right temperature, the pasta is not likely to stick to the pot very easily.
  5. Take a piece of pasta and slice and check if it has a white core a couple of minutes before the pasta is fully cooked. For dried pasta one should generally check at the 4th minute for thin spaghetti, the 5th or 6th minute for Penne and about the 8th or 9th minute for Fusilli.
  6. Cook for a minute more and check if the white core has disappeared. Taste the pasta. If it sticks to the back of your teeth, you can safely cook for an additional minute. Alternatively you can remove the pasta at this stage if this is your preferred chewiness level or if you’re going to toss this in a really hot sauce. For most Olive Oil based sauces, its preferable to have the pasta cooked till it doesn’t stick to your teeth.
  7. Drain the water immediately by pouring into a colander. Shake colander to drain water. Retain some of the water for non tomato based sauces. Reserve some of the water if the recipe calls for it. Toss pasta in sauce.

Notes:

  1. Many people add oil to the water while cooking pasta. I used to  do this on a chef’s recommendation but discontinued after sometime. Oil makes the pasta slippery and I found the amount of sauce that sticks especially to spaghetti can be unsatisfactory.
  2. Many people wash pasta after its been cooked to keep the pasta separate. If you have your sauce ready before the pasta is cooked, which you should, its pointless to wash the pasta. Washing pasta again reduces the amount of sauce that gets transferred onto the pasta and hinders the overall flavour. For sauces like Pesto, retaining some of the water in the pasta without shaking it all off through the colander should help you toss the pasta in without the pasta looking sticky. Adding olive oil or a teaspoon of butter while adding the pasta to sauce also works. In short, keep your sauce ready, don’t make your pasta go cold.

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Homemade Butter

Milk and milk products have high nutritious value when consumed in right quantities. While many of us would like to have fat free milk and curds, we should not forget that our children need to get some amount of fat in their diet. We can choose a half toned milk that will fulfill the needs of the entire family. Half toned milk has around 4% fat and we can easily prepare butter at home by removing the cream from this milk. I have been preparing butter at home for the past 27 years. It is not very difficult or time consuming.

Some like to collect cream from curds. I have found that cream collected from milk gives butter that is sweet. Fresh cream collected from milk can also be used in cooking.

Method

  • Boil 1/2 litre milk in the MW for 3 minutes. Allow to cool well.
  • Refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. A thick layer of cream will be formed at the top.

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Cream floating on the top of refrigerated milk

  • Remove the cream carefully with a slotted ladle and collect it in a wondelier bowl and store in the chill tray in the fridge.. Use the cream free milk for your beverages or for setting curds.

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Cream collected in the wondelier bowl

  • Collect cream in the same bowl for a week. Add a teaspoon of curd a leave for a few hours.
  • Add 1/2 cup plain water, seal the bowl well and shake well for 3 minutes.
  • You will see the butter floating in the bowl. Add some more water and remove the butter with wet hands. You can wash the butter with some more water if required.

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Home made butter ready to use as you please

We can use this butter for preparing cakes and savouries. For festivals like Srijayanthi home made butter is best. It gives the bhakshanams a distinct flavour. We can boil the butter and prepare ghee. The smell and flavour of home made ghee is heavenly.

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