Aloo Palak & Aloo Gobi

The summer internships have started and since all our husbands have finally gone off to work, the wives decided to get together and have a potluck dinner. Three of my dear friends, who are married to Shankar's classmates, and I shared a fantastic meal last night. We got together, discussed life, Akanksha's pregnancy, what our plans are post graduation, and compared where each of us will be traveling to over the summer to visit our husbands. The consensus on the dinner was that we would never have gotten such a good meal in any of the Indian restaurants in Ann Arbor, and how wonderful and cost effective it was to get together for a home cooked meal where we each left with lunch packed up for the following day. Life is so much better with Girlfriends!

The lovely blue china bowls were picked up this weekend as Shankar and I roamed the streets of Chicago's Chinatown as that is where I went travelling. I decided to make spinach since we picked up a few fresh bunches at the fantastic vegetable markets on Devon St. in Chicago.

Pooja, Akanksha, Namrata & Kanchana's Potluck Dinner Menu

Masala Baked Macaroni - P
Homemade Rotis - N
Moong Daal with Tomato - N
Cholas - A
Aloo Palak - K
Aloo Gobi - K
Rice - P

I wanted to use the fresh spinach in my fridge, so the first place i headed was JFI Greens, a collection of recipes at Indira's Mahanandi by fellow food bloggers using all kinds of green leafy vegetables. This recipe is taken from one of my favorite sites, Anita's "A Mad Tea Party". I love the simplicity of AMTP's dishes. My husband is better at making dishes with complex spice blends, but I enjoy making dishes where the vegetables are highlighted with a few key aromatic ingredients. AMTP recommends mustard oil, but I used olive oil.

Aloo Palak
1 bunch of chopped fresh spinach (or 1 package frozen chopped), 2 medium potatoes boiled and cubed, 1 tomato diced, 1 tbsp minced ginger, 3 large green chillies minced (AMTP says 6 chillies split), 1 onion minced, a pinch of asafetida, salt

1. In a few tbsp of oil saute the ginger and green chillies and asafetida. Then cook the onions.
2. Add the tomatoes until they release some water, and turn into a pulp.
3. Add the potatoes and salt them generously.
4. Add the spinach and mix it in until it wilts.

The Aloo Gobi recipe is from my friend Sandhya Balan. She and her husband Jay invited Shankar and I over for dinner and she served up a feast that included this recipe. I liked it so much I had to know how to make it. She shared below, and look carefully for her secret ingredient! I added the methi leaves to it.

Aloo Gobi
1 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 onion sliced, 2 medium potatoes boiled and cubed, 1 cup cauliflower florets, 1/4 cup of frozen or fresh peas, 1 tsp dried methi leaves (optional), 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp sambar powder, salt

1. Fry the cumin seeds in some oil.
2. Saute the onions.
3. Add the turmeric, and chili powder.
4. Add the potatoes and mix. Add salt.
5. Add the cauliflower, peas, methi, sambar powder and mix.
6. Transfer to a casserole dish and bake in the oven at 300 degrees for 25-30 minutes until nicely roasted.

Roasting the vegetables in the oven give it a very unique flavor, as does the sambar powder!

Verdict: I think everyone agreed that all the dishes were delicious. Namrata's homemade roti's were particularly appreciated. Akanksha is such a sweetheart and woke up early to make her chole before working all day on their release! Thanks to Pooja for welcoming us into her home and for her innovative masala macaroni dish. I'm already looking forward to my lunch today!

Oorukai: Manjal, Manga Injie, Vepilaikatti

Pickles are an important part of the South Indian meal, best eaten as an accompaniment to the last course of yogurt rice. Pickles in India are very different from the European varieties in that they are preserved in oil rather than vinegar. The acidic element of lemon or lime juice that is added prevents the pickle from going bad (bacterial growth), while the oil acts as a preservative. My favorite pickle is Maahaani (Sarsaparilla root) which my husband says he finds has a strong smell as it is pickled in oil, chili powder, and yogurt. The varieties are endless and include fruits like lemons, limes, mangoes, gooseberries, and citron to name a few. The mango variations alone are numerable with the likes of avvakai, vadu maangai, manga thokku, and one simply called manga oorukai.

The best part of having Indian parents and in-laws is all the great food they send us, and my fridge is always stocked with their homemade pickles. My dad is famed for his avvakai and regularily sends me batches of the fiery hot soaked mango pickle. Though my MIL lives in Chennai India, she still finds ways to send us samples of her pickles! Her recent shipment included these three delicious pickles (oorakai, roughly translated as soaked unripe fruit).

1. Manjal & Mangai Ingie - Turmeric & Mango Ginger Root
2. Manjal & Elimichampazham- Turmeric & Lime/Lemon
3. Vepilaikatti - Lime, Citron, and Curry Leaf Balls

All three are homemade, and she sent me the recipes for the first two so that I can share them with you all. I had a little doubt typing this up and reading her recipe, I wasn't sure if Mango Ginger meant mango + ginger, but I knew it didn't taste like that. So I found some great information about this on a similar post at Vaishali's Happy Burp. Mango Ginger (Curcuma Amada) is the name of a root that is from the same family as turmeric.

I can't tell you how good eating these roots make you feel. Here are some of the mango ginger root properties taken from Kissan Kerala.

"An appetizer, antipyretic, aphrodisiac and laxative. It is useful in biliousness, itching, skin diseases, bronchitis, asthma, hiccough and inflammation due to injuries. The rhizomes and roots are carminative and stomachic and in crushed pulp form they are applied over contusions, sprains and bruises for rapid healing."

I love reading about the medicinal characteristics of spices, herbs, and vegetables that are used in South Indian traditional cooking. Learning about them makes me appreciate the breadth of knowledge that our forefathers had and how their lifestyles were so organically healthy.

Turmeric is known for its antiseptic qualities, and women in South Indian rub on their skin (it turns their skin yellow too!). In South Indian Brahmin homes it is traditional to present married women with manjal roots and vermillion. The little goody bag in the picture is from my wedding, and is filled with small boxes of vermillion, saffron, and turmeric roots. My uncle grows fresh turmeric on his farm in Kerala and brought a huge bag of it for my wedding!

Turmeric Root & Mango Ginger Root Pickle
fresh turmeric root and fresh mango ginger root (enough for 1 cup of minced roots), 2 green chillies, 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp mustard seeds

1. Scrape the skin off the roots and mince them.
2. Mix the turmeric/mango ginger root with salt and lemon/lime juice.
3. Splutter the mustard seeds in a tsp of oil, add the green chili and fry.
4. Add this to the mixture and mix together.

My MIL says that if you cannot find both roots, the same recipe can be followed for plain ginger mango root, or plain turmeric root.

Turmeric Root & Lime Pickle
fresh turmeric root, 1 lime, salt,1 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp cumin powder, 1/2 tsp coriander powder, 1/2 tsp red chili powder, a pinch of asafetida, 3/4 tsp of salt

1. Scrape the skin off the turmeric roots and cut them in to small pieces.
2. Put it in a ceramic bowl.
3. Cut a lime into small pieces and add to the turmeric roots.
4. Add the salt (really to taste).
5. Heat a few tsp of oil, and splutter the mustard seeds.
6. Lower the heat and add the cumin powder, coriander powder, red chili powder, the asafetida and roast slightly.
7. Add the turmeric root and stir for 2 to 3 minutes.
8. Remove from the heat, add the lime pieces and mix well.

The measurements are just a guide, and should be adjusted to taste.

The veppilaikatti is made by grinding up leaves of citron (narthangai), karivepilai (curry leaves), and lime or lemon leaves with red chillies, salt, and asafetida. Some people also add ajwain or omam seeds. This is ground with the juice of lemons or limes, and salt.

Ragada Pattice: with Radish, Potato, and Paneer

I think I'm really liking this work scene, where I come home to a special creation by Shankar. Today's menu featured a delicious radish, potato, and homemade paneer tikka in a savory peas and tomato sauce. The tikka's were large enough to be an entire meal on its own, and were just perfect smothered in the sauce with crisp minced red onion, fresh cilantro, and chaat masala powder. The following recipes make enough for 8 large tikkas. The leftover tikkas are going to be used in the switchup: 'radish-potato-paneer burgers' for tomorrow's lunch! We were at my parents place in Toronto over the weekend, indulging in FoodTV when we saw Jaimie Oliver sitting in his garden making beer battered pakodas. So we tried it with these tikkas, but to be honest there wasn't much difference in taste between the battered tikkas and the ones we left plain. The sauce or ragada should be a thin channa, but Shankar just used what we had on hand and substituted peas for chickpeas. You can get the recipe for homemade paneer on Savithri's Spot here.

Radish, Potato, and Paneer Tikka
3 cups of paneer, 2 small potatoes boiled and mashed, 1 cup of shredded daikon/radish, 1 bunch of chopped green onions, 1/2 large green chili minced, 1 handful of cilantro chopped, 1 tbsp of garam masala, 1 tbsp of dhania jeera powder, salt to taste, 1/2 tsp of turmeric

1/2 cup gram flour, enough beer or water to give it a smooth consistency that is not too watery, 1 tsp dried mint

1. Mix the ingredients for the batter together until no lumps form.
2. Mix the crumbled paneer, mashed potatoes, radish, and all the remaining ingredients in a bowl.
3. Take a 1/4 cup of the mixture at a time, roll into balls and flatten. We found flattening on a oiled board, and cutting out circles worked the best.
4. In a saucepan, heat some oil.
5. Dip the patties into the batter and fry them on both sides.
6. Alternatively you can batter them and bake them in the oven at 350 for about 25 minutes. Flip them and cook the other side for a few minutes. Ensure you have oiled the tray or sprayed it with cooking spray. Spray the battered patties as well.

Sauce - Ragada
1 large beefsteak tomato diced, 1 handful peas, 1/2 red onion diced, 1 tsp of chili powder, 1 tsp of turmeric, 1 tsp of channa masala, 1/2 tbsp garam masala, 1/2 tbsp dhania jeera powder, garlic (optional -- we didn't use it)

1. Saute the onions in oil.
2. Add the tomatoes and fry till the water separates.
3. Add the various powders, and peas and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Season with salt. Adjust the seasoning of the masala powders to your taste.

Verdict: Guaranteed to make anyone drool. Ok, I'm eating a plain tikka as a midnight snack right now. Seriously, you know when you open the fridge and you want something to snack on? Yeah, this is it. Make some, you'll see.

Here is the switchup: The most delicious homemade potato burger. Toasted buns spread with mint chutney and maggie masala chili sauce, layered with slices of onion, chopped cilantro and lettuce. You could add cheese to yours as well. This was SO amazing. I wish you all could be here to try some with me. Now get this, the patties Shankar made for our next day burger were all baked, and he used fat free milk for the paneer. This meal not only tasted good, it was also low fat, and low in calories. I also bought the lighter buns from the store. Can you believe it?!

Flavored Buttermilk

Shankar got this recipe from one of our aunts, A amma as she is fondly referred to. It is the ultimate refreshing cool drink on a hot summer day. Just make up a batch of it, leave it in the fridge and enjoy. This makes about 4 cups. We use non fat yogurt, or homemade yogurt with fat free milk. You can see a similar recipe for this on Nandita's Saffron Trail.

Flavored Buttermilk
1 cup buttermilk, 1 cup plain yogurt, 2 cups of cold water, 1 small green chili, 1/2 inch piece of peeled ginger, juice of 1/2 a lemon, 6-7 curry leaves, 3-4 stalks of cilantro , salt to taste, a pinch of kala namak - black salt (optional), a pinch of ground fenugreek, and 1/2 a tsp of mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp asafetida

1. Grind all the ingredients together in a blender except the last three.
2. Splutter the mustard seeds in a little oil, add the ground fenugreek, asafetida. Add to the buttermilk and mix.

Verdict: We are so addicted to this now.

Bread Uppuma

This is such a great recipe to use up bread at the end of the week, as well as being super fast to prepare. Its also a great idea for Saturday morning breakfasts, when you have the time to make something hot. Shankar threw this together for me as an after work snack. I've seen a few recipes on other blogs, but this method we got from my MIL.

Bread Uppuma
10 slices of bread, 1 tomato diced, 1 small onion minced, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp mustard seeds, a few curry leaves, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1 large green chili minced, a few curry leaves, cilantro chopped

1. Cut the bread into 1" cubes. Sprinkle with water and salt.
2. Splutter the mustard seeds in oil, add the cumin seeds and curry leaves.
3. Add the green chili and fry it. Add the turmeric and red chili powder.
4. Add the onions and fry them. Add the tomatoes and fry until the oil separates.
5. Add the bread and mix thoroughly. Add salt.
6. Add chopped cilantro as a garnish.

1. Onion Bread, 2. Lemon Ginger Bread

The tables have been turned on my husband as I headed back into the corporate jungle last week. This week he's at home making dinner for me (putting that expensive education to good use)! My alpha cook is enjoying the kitchen all to himself these days, and I am reaping the benefits. The other day I came home from work and was treated to an amazing tomato sandwich made with fresh homemade onion bread. It was followed up with a dessert of sweet lemon ginger bread drizzled with honey. What a nice welcome home after a long day! You can also see the 6" Wusthof chef's knife that Shankar bought me, it is the queen of knives ladies. Perfect for small hands, and lightweight. Once you use that, you cannot use another knife. Seriously. You can find the bread recipe in a previous post of mine. Below are the flavorings that Shankar added to them. I've also posted the bread recipe below.

Onion Bread
1 small onion minced, 2 green onions chopped, a handful of chopped basil, 1 minced green chili, 1 tsp dried oregano

The sandwich was made with tomatoes, red onion, basil, and havarti cheese and toasted on the grill.

Lemon Ginger Bread
1 tbsp of lemon zest, 1 tbsp crushed whole black peppercorns, 2 tbsp grated ginger

The dessert bread was toasted on the grill in butter, and then drizzled with honey.

Verdict: There is nothing like a hot snack as soon as someone comes home from hard day's work, not to mention the welcoming smell of freshly baked bread.
That bread looked so good that I couldn't wait to take the picture before I tasted it, so you can see one bite in the corner!

Here is the bread recipe again,
from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. Thanks to my brother in law for sharing it with us. I believe he got it off of a flour package originally.

1 cup water, 2 tbsp butter, 1 large egg, 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour, 1/8 cup sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp instant yeast

1. Activate the yeast in the water.
2. Combine all the ingredients and mix and knead them together until you've made a soft, smooth dough.
3. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover it, and let it rise until doubled (about 1 hour).
4. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and shape each piece into a flattened ball. Place the buns on the baking sheet, cover, and let rise for 30–40 minutes, until they're quite puffy.
5. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the buns for 12–15 minutes until they're golden brown. We used a loaf pan from Williams Sonoma.
6. Remove them from the oven and cool them on a rack.

Venpongal Gotsu

Another classic combination from the realms of Tamil Nadu courtesy of my dear MIL. My own mother used to make venpongal all the time, but I only really got hooked on it when I tasted my MIL's eggplant gotsu. My own mom will attest that the eggplant gotsu is very good as she got the recipe from my MIL even before I did! I digress, lets get back to venpongal. So I have done a post on venpongal earlier for the Pongal Festival, but that day I didn't have any eggplant so I served it up with sambar. The classic combination for venpongal is eggplant gotsu. Yummy eggplant and tomato stewed in a tamarind sauce with only a few lentils and spices to flavor it. I recommend making this gotsu next time you make venpongal, you'll be hooked I promise. This recipe is for four people.

Eggplant Gotsu
1 medium eggplant diced, 1 tomato diced, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp channa daal, 2 dried red chillies, a pinch of asafetida, 1 tbsp minced ginger, 1 medium green chili minced, a few curry leaves, 1 cup of tamarind juice (use a 1" ball of tamarind to extract the juice from), 1/2 tsp turmeric, salt, a little water

1. Splutter the mustard seeds in 2 tbsp of oil. Add the channa daal, asafetida, red chillies, and curry leaves and let the channa daal turn golden.
2. Add the ginger, green chilli, and turmeric.
3. Add the tomato and fry it a little. Add the eggplant.
4. Add the tamarind juice, and barely cover the eggplant with water. Add salt.
5. Let this simmer until it thickens.

Verdict: A repeat dish for sure.

Paneer Kabobs

This weekend in Michigan we had the most gorgeous weather. For a change, it was HOT. And enjoy it we did, with a huge barbeque right in our townhouse complex. All of Shankar's friends in the Business School who hadn't left for the summer came out in full force. For the bbq, Shankar contributed his famous Paneer Kabobs. He made them before in the oven with the regular wooden sticks soaked in water. But then we found this incredible contraption at Target on clearance for 5 dollars. It is a square metal stand with grooves on the side to horizontally hold 5 metal skewers with a little ring at the end of each for turning. It sits right on top of your grill, or alternatively on a tray in your oven. This is a great idea as it prevents the marinade from sticking to your grill or tray.

We've done this at parties, and now a bbq and they are always a hit! You can soak the vegetables and paneer in the marinade overnight as well. The following recipe is for a large batch of kabobs. We made at least 25-30 kabobs with this. Keep the vegetables fairly large so they are easy to skewer and don't disintegrate into the grill.

1 bunch cilantro, 2 tbsp dhania jeera powder OR 1 tbsp dhania seeds and 1 tbsp jeera seeds, 1 onion, 1 large green chili, juice of 1 lemon, 2 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp anardhana, 1 tsp amchur, 1 tbsp minced ginger, salt, 1 cup yogurt


2 blocks paneer cubed, a few tomatoes cut into large chunks OR large cherry tomatoes, 2 green peppers cut into 2" pieces, 1 package mushrooms (stems removed), 1 onion cut into 2" pieces, 1 1 cup of cauliflower florets, 1 zucchini cut into large round slices

1. Grind all the ingredients together for the marinade. You can add a little water, but keep it quite thick.
2. Soak all the vegetables and paneer in the marinade overnight (optional).
3. Skewer the vegetetables, and brush more marinade on the vegetables.
4. The grill should be quite hot. Grill them on both sides till they char around the edges. Or broil in the oven until slightly blackened.

Serve plain or with chutney!

Verdict: This was a hit, we had people running up to grab the pieces off the plates. They ended up being 'share' plates!