Friday, March 27, 2009

Ugadi - Hosa varsha, Hosa harsha

“Yuga Yugadi kaledaroo, Yugadi marali barutide
Hosa varushake hosa harushava hosatu hosatu tarutide….”

On every Ugadi, we’d wake up to this same old song of Black ‘n white movie era. The same song would be played on both the radio stations – Akashavani and Vividha Bharati and the only TV channel, Doordarshan. And even now, when there are over a hundred television channels, almost every Kannada channel would play this song. The song translates close to this - “Year after year is passing by, and a fresh new year is beginning, bringing new joys, and everything new…”
Well, Ugadi is considered to be the beginning of a year according to Lunar calendar. It is the first day of the month ‘Chaitra’. It is when the trees have just started sprouting with fresh green leaves, after fall, the mango trees are full of fresh leaves, and flowers beginning to grow into fruits. Fresh Green everywhere is a small ounce of relief to the scorching summer heat.
Ugadi, or Yugadi, as it is called in Kannada, starts with the task of cleaning of the house from a couple of weeks before. It is rather weekends for working people like us! The entire house is cleaned, dusted, curtains, cushions washed, all utensils and boxes in kitchen washed and refilled, so on and so forth.

The previous evening, mango and neem leaves are tied to the main door frame – what we call ‘torana’. This gives the house a festive look. Yugadi starts with wishing each other a happy new year and then an elaborate oil bath – ‘abhyanjana’. Then starts the pooja and meanwhile preparation of sweets and naivedya in kitchen. The main highlight of this festival is ‘bevu-bella’ – neem and jaggery combination – which signifies the sweet and bitter situations of life, which we need to accept with the same spirit.

Then comes the much awaited panchanga shravana – reading out from the new lunar calendar about the astrological significance of the new year, predictions of all zodiac signs for the coming year, which we believe or not, would want to hear, and speculate!

Then begins the feast – the sumptuous lunch that is prepared, and served on plantain leaves. The menu mainly consists of Mavinakai (raw mango) chitranna, or puliyogare, Bele obbattu, obbattina saru, payasa, bajji/bonda, salads, and curries (Recipes will follow eventually). All these are served on plantain leaves in a certain order.
A short nap after a heavy lunch and then getting decked up with new clothes in the evening. And a visit to the nearby temple. Also, they say it is auspicious to watch the rising moon on Ugadi. Since it is the first day after new moon day, the moon appears as a growing arc. There are some places where inflation/deflationfor the year, whether cost of commodities rise or fall, are predicted based on the orientation of the moon! And thus begins a new year….
Wish you all a happy and prosperous Virodhi nama samvatsara.
Note: The scientific explanation to having neem on this day is this. Ugadi marks the onset of summer season, when lot of epidemic diseases outbreak. Neem, as it is a natural antibiotic, gives us resistance to these diseases to a certain extent. Since it is too biter to be had as is, it is mixed with jaggery.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Neer Dose - Smooth, Soft, Snow-white 'n lite Dosas

“Ma, I’m coming home this weekend”
“Ohh good... what do I make for you?”
“Anything is fine ma.... I’ll love to eat whatever you make”
“Shall I make neer dose”
“Ohhhh wow! I’d love it! I’m waiting for the weekend....”

This would be my common conversation on phone with Ma. When you’ve never gone and stayed away from home for almost a quarter century, and suddenly you’ll have to go and stay in another home, though it’s supposedly yours from now on, you know how it feels.
Something like, Hmmmm.... everyone’s good there, but still you don’t feel comfortable enough; there are enough people to take care of you here, but still you miss those few who you’ve been with through out your life; you’re given very good food, may be better than what you normally had, still you miss that particular simple dish your mom used to prepare for you....That used to be my state during the initial state (Of course it is the same to some extent still;) ). And this conversation with ma, and the wait for the weekend used to be a like a silver lining!

Coming to the dosa part of the story, I would pull up a chair to the dining table in the kitchen, and settle down with a plate for the much awaited breakfast. A big bowl of coconut chutney would be ready on the table. And mom would start making these smooth, white dosas one by one and serve them hot to my plate directly from the tawa. And before the next dosa is done, the plate would be empty! The bowl of chutney also starts getting emptied. After umpteen servings of hot dosas, I’d start feeling if I’m eating too much! And mom would say, “Stop counting! These are very small dosas, and very thin too. It’ll get digested in less than an hour.”. And another few rounds would go on, before I’m completely filled with these soft, smooth, white dosas. And the satisfaction of it would last for a long time......

Nothing can beat the taste of these dosas that mom makes – first because she is my mom and the second reason being the flat thick old tawa she uses.
I too have started making them now, it sure is a hit with everyone at home. I do get the satisfaction of making them and serving hot to the family, but that joy of sitting in the kitchen, chatting with mom and eating her dosas is something that is unexplainable!

Okie, enough of my story, and here’s the recipe...... Agree that it needs some experience to make these neer-dosas, but it’s not too tough either. A couple of trials, and I’m sure anyone can be an expert in it! The best part of it is that it doesn’t need fermenting. You can make them instantly after making the batter.

Neer Dose

Preparation time : 20 min (apart from soaking time)
Cooking time : 10-15 min
Serves : 4

Dosa Rice - 2-3 cups
Cooked Rice - ½ cup (optional)
Grated Coconut - ½ cup (optional)
Salt - ½ Tsp or as per taste
Cooking Oil - 1 Tbsp

Dosa Batter:
• Wash and soak rice in enough water for 3-4 hours or overnight (I generally soak it overnight)
• Grind the soaked rice with some water in a wet grinder / mixer
• Once the rice is ground to a coarse paste add the coconut and/or cooked rice (Left over rice would be the best to use) – This is however optional
• Add water if necessary and grind the batter to a very fine paste – The finer the better
• Transfer the batter to a separate vessel
• Add enough water to make the batter free flowing (Thinner than normal dosa batter)
• The batter is ready!

• Heat a non stick griddle/tawa
• Smear 1 tsp of oil evenly on the tawa
• Now take a big spoon/ ladle of the batter and spread it on the tawa outside in.

(What I mean here is, unlike normal dosa where you pour a ladle of batter on the centre of the tawa and run the spoon over it, spreading it inside-out, for this dosa, do it the opposite way. Pour in the batter very quickly making a circumference of the dosa first and start filling the inside. Don’t run the ladle over the batter spread on the tawa. Well, if I’m confusing you, check out the pic above. The thinner the dosa, the better it tastes.)

• Cover it with a plate/lid
• After half a minute, remove the lid, smear another tsp of oil over the dosa and leave for another half a minute (you may have to adjust the heat, not to burn it or not to leave it uncooked)
• Once the dosa is cooked, take it out of the tawa and serve straight to the plate
• Enjoy the bisi-bisi dosa with coconut-red chili chutney and a spoon of ghee!

Tips n Tricks:
• The batter should not be too thin, as it would take a longer time to cook and may also stick to the tawa
• The thinner the dosa, the better it tastes.
• This dosa tastes better when not crisped
• Use a flat tawa to make things easy – the one I’ve shown in pic is a concave-curved tawa, but a flat one would be better initially

For a flavored version of Neer dosa, add some raw spices while grinding the batter, like any combination of the following:
• Onion - 1 small, quartered
• Cumin seeds - 1 Tsp
• Curry leaves - 1 small bunch
• Green chilies - 2-3, depending on taste (optional)
• Ginger - 1" cube
• Coriander leaves - a small bunch

Green chilies and fresh coriander may be replaced with red chilies or back pepper and dry coriander seeds (dhania)

Neeru in kannada means water. This dosa is probably called neer-dose as the batter is very much watery when compared to that of normal, fermented dosa.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Red Chili-Coconut Chutney

Chutneys can be made in a hundred ways, seriously! A little variation of ingredients, some additions, some replacements, a total set of new ingredients, grind it coarse, grind it smooth, use green chilies, use red chilies....... the options are many. And each preparation gives a totally new variant, a fresher taste. And knowing which chutney goes well with what dish is an important thing too, as the taste of either depends on the other most of the times. A very good dish served with a wrong combination of chutney can make the whole meal bad. Similarly a good chutney that goes well with a dish will definitely enhance the taste of the dish.

Here’s a simple chutney that tastes very good with dosas – especially Neer dose. And it also makes the already superb dosa taste still better!! It tastes very good with rice too.
Red Chili-Coconut chutney

Preparation time : 10 min
Cooking time : 5 min
Serves : 4

Coconut - 1 cup, grated
Dry red chilies - 5-6, depending on taste
Asafoetida - a big pinch
Cooking oil - 1 Tsp
Fried gram dal - 2 Tsp
Jaggery - a small pinch (optional)
Tamarind - a small marble sized ball
Salt - ½ Tsp or as per taste
For tempering / tadka:
Cooking oil - 1 Tsp
Curry leaves - A few strands
Mustard seeds - 1 Tsp
Asafoetida - a pinch, powdered

• Roast red chilies and asafetida in a tsp of oil, till the chilies become crisp
• Grind the above with all other ingredients, adding a little water if needed
• Transfer the ground chutney to a serving bowl
For tempering / tadka:
• Heat the oil in a pan, add mustard and allow to splutter
• Add asafetida and curry leaves
• Garnish the chutney with tadka

Tips n Tricks:
• Do not make the chutney too smooth – a little coarse consistency will give a better taste

• A small onion can be roasted and ground together with chutney

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Palak (Spinach) Soup

So we wanted a soup for that special Sunday lunch. The first thought I get when I hear ‘soup’ is the reddish-orange ‘Tomato soup’! After a grand success of it the first time I made, I had repeated the tomato soup quite too often! So today, I decided, will not be a tomato-day! Is it not unfair not to give a chance for other soups?
But on the other hand I did not know a proper recipe for any other soup..... Hmmmmmm........ But so what? Can’t I try out something based on my instincts? Sure I can! But what???
At such times of crisis, Dee surely comes to my rescue and solves my confusion. ‘There!’ he pointed out to a bunch of fresh green spinach, ‘why don’t you try out palak soup?’ I was delighted at the idea, and wanted to try it out soon....
So made a mental recipe as to what and how it should be done, what to add, what not to, how much etc etc, as I cleaned and washed the spinach. And there I started out my venture. In about half an hour was ready an inviting big green bowl full of the soup. And in the next fifteen minutes, it was over too! And we were trying to eat out the last spoon of it from the big serving bowl!
Here’s how you make it...
Spinach (Palak) Soup

Preparation time : 5 min
Cooking time : 15 min
Serves : 4

Spinach - 2 small bunches / 2 cups of chopped spinach
Butter - 1 Tsp
Black pepper - 1 Tsp
Red Chili powder - ¼ Tsp
Salt - ½ Tsp or as per taste
Water - 2 Cups, change acc to consistency
Corn flour - 1 Tbsp
Fresh cream - 1 Tbsp

• Heat butter in a pan and add black pepper
• Once the peppers sputter, add the chopped spinach
• Cook till done, sprinkling water if necessary
• Let it cool for a few minutes
• Grind the cooked spinach adding water if necessary, to make a fine paste
• Strain the puree to a vessel
• Add salt and chili powder and allow to boil for 2-3 minutes
• Mix cornflour with half a cup of cold water without lumps and add it to the boiling soup
• Add enough water so that a right consistency of soup is maintained – neither too thick nor too thin
• Let it boil for a couple of minutes more
• Put off the heat and add fresh cream and stir well
• Serve hot

• A small onion can also be added to give a different flavor