Friday, August 24, 2012

Gumbo Z'herbes (Vegetarian Green Gumbo) and a New Orleans Mini Travelogue

Skip the ramblings and head straight to the recipe

Now that we are settled in and the little fellow has gotten used to sitting longer hours all strapped up in his car seat, we have started traveling a bit farther and exploring beyond the 2 hour radius we normally stick to. We have been, without really planning to, visiting cities that are associated with different music genrés. Now I'm not a music aficionado by any means. I just enjoy music, without getting into the who, why and wherefores of it (much to N's irritation!). But our little trips to these cities have broadened my knowledge a wee bit at least or that's what I'd like to believe! Memphis, the closest to us, is a blues city. Beale Street is steeped in the history of Delta blues music and the numerous restaurants and bars that line the street have live blues music every night and a lively atmosphere any time of the day or night. Nashville is of course, home of country music and the Grand Ole Opry. There were four concerts spread over the three days that we were there, including Keith Urban, but with M & S in tow, attending concerts, especially in other cities, are a thing of the past (or future!). New Orleans, our most recent "music city" trip, is just alive and buzzing with jazz and blues.

We happened to visit New Orleans during the Satchmo jazz festival and got to soak some jazz, while eating po-boys and jambalaya from the stalls around. The food scene at New Orleans is a joy. Restaurants, fancy and regular, serving typical New Orleans fare, the confectioners, the farmers markets at French Market, small & big shops selling Cajun and Creole spices and seasonings - loved them all! If you are a seafood fan, like N is, New Orleans is heaven for you. For a mostly-vegetarian like me, I was glad to find vegetarian versions of all the foods that NO is famous for. Apart from the Creole and Cajun fare, stalls selling Vietnamese food - the Bahn mis in particular, seemed very popular too. And as to be expected, there are several Italian and Mexican options for dining as well. Alligator meat is a delicacy here, thanks to the swamps surrounding the area that the alligators call home. Apparently, there are over a million of them in Louisiana.(shudder! Though I can hear some going "yum!" for the same statement :) Not adventurous when it comes to meat, we did not try it. It tastes like chicken apparently.


[Click on the for a larger image]

One of the recommended must-haves were beignets, a deep fried pastry, at Cafe du Mondé for breakfast. Now, I'm not a sugar person, especially in the mornings. No waffles, pancakes and such for breakfast for me, if I have a choice. (I think I'm that way just to balance out all the sweet-toothed folks in my family. My sister D and cousin D are known to make all sorts of complicated sweet dishes from scratch at any time, day or night, when the craving hits! And my dad HAS to have something sweet after each meal. If nothing, he will at least have a piece of jaggery!) So we had the beignets as a mid-morning snack and they were so, so good and are best had hot. I thought they came with too much powdered sugar on top (see pic below), but then what do I know, the non-sweet-toothed person who finds most things too sweet anyway! :)



Pralines, a creamy-nutty fudge, are another NO specialty and I was glad to find a sugar and spice version, with hot Tabasco sauce. Delish!

The most foodie fun I had though, was at a shop called the Pepper Palace where they had rubs, jams, sauces, condiments and snacks with pepper variations (like habanero peach jelly and orange chipotle sauce). Very customer friendly, with a huge variety of sauces, jellies, butters, salsas all laid out with chips, spoons et al for sampling. I spent a lot of time here and ended up with a nice haul to bring back home. (The one thing N and I have realized is the need for us to have some exploring time of our own on these trips, so we get to do the stuff we want, without having to hasten through things because of the kids or lack of interest of the other. Just walking around the French Quarter, with its numerous attractions and taking in the lovely architecture and colorful walls, the beautiful ironwork balconies - was time well spent for me though all too short.) The beautiful trams and local buses make it super easy to see all the sights.

The one dish that screams New Orleans that I did not get to have there was the gumbo. So I decided to make it at home. While researching into it, I found that there is no "proper" way of making this dish. Some extol the use of a nutty roux and swear by it, while many recipes don't have a roux base. I always thought gumbo meant the presence of okra. But not so, apparently. Some have and some don't. But all have the "holy trinity" of Cajun and Creole cooking - onions, bell pepper and celery - in them. This recipe below is from here.

Recipe

Gumbo Z'herbes

Ingredients:


2-3 bunches of mixed greens (I used beet greens, spinach and a few sprigs of parsley. Collard greens, carrot tops, mustard greens are some of the others you could use)
1 small onion, medium dice
1 small bell pepper, medium dice
1 stalk celery, dice
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
1 tbsp cajun seasoning
1 each clove, bay leaf
1/2 tsp allspice powder
1 tsp green Tabasco sauce
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
salt to taste

Method:


Clean and finely chop the greens and cook them in a pot with water or in a pressure cooker, like I did. Strain and reserve the cooking liquid. Take about a three quarters and pureé and mix with the remainder of the chopped greens.
In a thick-bottomed pot, heat oil. When hot, slowly sprinkle the flour, whisking continuously so that no lumps are formed. Reduce to low and continue to stir until the color of the roux turns light brown.
Stir in the onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic into the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the reserved cooking liquid and vegetable broth and mix well. Stir in the cajun seasoning, allspice, bay leaf and cloves. Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring often, until the broth becomes thick.
Add the pureed and chopped greens, season with salt. Cover and cook on low for another 10 minutes.
Finally stir in the green Tabasco and serve over plain white rice.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Batate Saung - Potatoes in Coconut-Red Chilli Gravy

Summer vacation for Little Miss M is all done. School started last week and she is one happy kitty. I don't remember ever being happy about returning to school after holidays. Summer holidays for us as kids meant visiting cousins or meeting them at my grandfather's house in Mysore. That house holds a lot of great memories for all of us.

It was/is one of those old, rambling houses built in the early 1900s, with 20 foot ceilings, a large courtyard at the center with a tulsi plant on a beautiful pedestal, an uggrana (storage room/pantry) that was larger than the kitchen (which was quite big itself) and the surrounding gardens with many fruit bearing trees and flowering plants. There was this old jackfruit tree that bore so many fruits that whoever visited our house during the season got to take one home! There were wood apple, guava, amla, gooseberry, mulberry, jamun and ramphal trees and we all were adept at climbing them to get to the goodies. We've had numerous falls and bruises from those, many major, most of which our parents never even came to know about. I shudder to think about them now! Four cousins and I, who were all one to two years apart in age, pulled many stunts that would freak me out now, if M or S ever tried any of those! I narrate those stories to M as adventures of the "Famous Five of Mysore" and she loves to hear about our various romps and escapades. Cousin A was the oldest, the responsible one. I was next, followed by cousin V, who was the naughtiest and got into most trouble. Then came cousin D, the other girl in the gang and finally cousin V, the youngest and therefore, the target of many pranks. For my sis D who was a few more years older than us, we were just little pests that needed to be put up with or ignored but she did a good job of mediating our many fights and playing the big sister to all of us, when required. So many stories, I could write a book about it or even a series, really! :) Good old days.

Onto the recipe now. This dish is popular in most Konkani homes. First of all, it has potatoes which is like a universal favorite and then, a fiery and slightly tangy masala to top that with. What is not to like? My MIL always adds a bit of fenugreek seeds, which I really like. That can be skipped, though.

Batata Saung

Ingredients:

2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into thick cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp coconut oil
salt to taste

To Grind:
8-10 dried byadgi red chilies (or 2 regular red chilies and 3-4 byadgi)
1 tbsp coriander seeds
5-6 seeds methi/fenugreek
1/4 cup grated coconut
1/4 tsp thick tamarind concentrate

Method:

Boil the cubed potatoes in a pressure cooker, along with a little salt. Keep aside.
Dry roast coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds and the red chillies. Once cooled, grind to a smooth paste along with coconut and tamarind, using a little water.
Heat oil in a pan and fry the chopped onions, until browned.
Add the ground massol/masala, boiled potatoes and 1/2 a cup of water. Season with salt and mix well. Add more water for a thinner curry.
Bring to a boil, then let it simmer on low for 5-10 minutes.
Serve hot with rice and dalithoy or tawa rotis.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Egg Pulao & 6th Blogiversary

The reason I haven't forgotten my blog birthday so far is because it was started the same week as my daughter's birthday. Both turned six this past week. Thank you all, dear readers, for still being around with me. I appreciate that you took time out of your day to come check my blog. If you have any comments, suggestions or requests, please leave a comment here or email me at mysoorean at gmail. Thanks again, and virtual hugs your way.

Little Miss M and her two current best friends were carted to a gaming place with an anytime pizza/pasta buffet, where they spent four full hours playing and eating. Then we had a few more kids over at our house in the evening for cake and more eats. It was the day of Varamahalakshmi festival and we changed into ethnic wear later in the evening and went for haldi-kumkum. Next day was a trip to the zoo. All in all, a long but satisfying birthday weekend for M. The little fellow was in the thick of things. Hovering around, peeking, playing, poking - very interested in what everyone did. He fed a giraffe at the zoo and that was the highlight for him.

Coming to the dish, it was my sister who got me hooked to Pakistani biryani masalas. Have tried two different Shan biryani masalas and loved them both. I usually make vegetable or egg biryanis. Last time over, I tried the Laziza brand Sindhi biryani masala. They come in convenient sachets (two) within a box, one of which I used to make chicken biryani for Father's Day, following their recipe. It was spicy, hot and utterly delightful. The masala itself is very flavorful and contains dried plums with seeds along with the other regulars (red chillies, pepper, cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, cinnamom, dried ginger and dried garlic). For a quick weeknight dinner, I used the other sachet to make an easier egg pulao. Delightful again. Have you tried any Pakistani masalas? If so, any favorites?

Egg Pulao

Ingredients:

1 cup rice, washed, drained and kept aside for 15-20 mins
2 eggs, hard boiled
1 medium onion, sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1/4 cup peas (optional)
1-2 green chilies
2 tbsp Sindhi Biryani Powder
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
1 tbsp oil
salt to taste

Method:

In a pressure pan, heat oil and saute onions until slightly browned. Using a slotted spoon, remove about a tbsp and keep aside.
Add chopped tomatoes, peas if using, green chilies, cilantro and biryani powder.
Season with salt and mix well.
Halve or quarter the eggs and place them in the pan while the masala in being cooked.
Once the tomatoes are soft, remove the eggs and keep them aside. You could also shallow fry the eggs at this stage and keep aside but I just left them as is.
To the masala, add the soaked and drained rice and mix well.
Add coconut milk, water and salt to taste. (You could skip coconut milk altogether and just add another cup of water instead)
Cover and cook for one whistle. Switch off stove and let cool.
Transfer to a serving bowl/plate and top with eggs. Garnish with the reserved onions and some chopped cilantro. Serve with raita.