Saturday, December 30, 2006

Recipe: Poduthuval

How poduthuval got its name, I don’t know. Perhaps it was called "Podithooval," which literally meant sprinkling of powder. In this dish, traditionally no coconut was used and the curry was thickened with a powder made of roasted rice and red chillies. Now a days, of course, since coconuts are plenty, as usual with any kerala iyer recipe, a dash of coconut with green chillies is used to flavour this dish.

Poduthuval does not have a dal in it and no spice except coconut and green chillies.

Many people refer to different dishes as poduthuval these days, for want of a right name.

During the olden days, in the monsoon months of Kerala, when coconuts and vegetables were scarce due to the incessant rains, the only vegetables available were the summer gourds that had been preserved by hanging from the ceilings (cucumbers, white and red pumpkins) and the shoots of colacasia from the backyard, which would sprout in the rains. So the menu more often than not consisted of a poduthuval made from one of the above. Even there, the chembuthandu (colacasia shoots) poduthuval and pulinkari took prominent place. It tasted delicious. Some of them were dangerously itchy though.

I must admit, as children we never liked the chembuthandu poduthuval as it did not have the rich coconut flavour in it.

During the off monsoon seasons poduthuvals were always enriched with coconut. Some of the most common poduthuvals are mathan (red pumpkin) and chakkaravalli kizhangu (sweet potatoes – my dad’s favourite) idichakka (tender jackfruit), elavan and chakkakottai (white pumpkin or winter melon and jackfruit seeds), etc.

For long, I had not made this poduthuval and actually had forgotten about this dish. Ten years ago, when I visited my athai (paternal aunt) my athan(athai's son) told me, "Amma has made a special dish for you, mathan and chakkaravalli kizhangu poduthuval." I enjoyed the poduthuval made by my athai and on my return made the same poduthuval during my dad’s visit. He loved it, and said, "besh, besh!"

I visited my athai last week after 10 years. Though she is in no condition to do any housework now, I remembered my last visit and her poduthuval. On my return I prepared the dish remembering my athai.

Now for the recipe:

Red Pumpkin : 250gms
Sweet potatoes: 250 gms.
Turmeric powder: 1 tsp.
Coconut: 2 tbsp.
Green chillies 2nos.
Jaggery 1 tsp.
Salt to taste

For garnish:

Coconut oil 2 tsp.
(any cooking oil may be used)
mustard seeds : 1 tsp.
split urad dal: 1 tsp.
curry leaves : a few


Cut the vegetables into 2" cubes. Cook with turmeric powder and salt and jaggery (this may be done in a pressure cooker). Though both pumpkin and sweet potatoes are sweet, a little bit of jaggery enhances the taste.

Grind the coconut and green chillies, coarsely, without adding water.

Heat the coconut oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the urad dal. When the dal starts turning to a pink color, add the curry leaves and add the boiled vegetables. Boil for 5 minutes stirring well. Add the ground coconut mixtrure and boil for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat.

ENJOY with rice or rotis.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Merry Christmas

Once again a long break in my blogging, brought about by so many foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. In the first place, whenever our children visit us I get so busy in the kitchen cooking up various things, which we feel they enjoy (Both of them tell us not to bother so much about their meals and just cook some simple things). I went out of town to visit my elderly relatives, a trip that I had been postponing (for a variety of reasons) for more than a year now. My computer was not operational as the UPS had died. After my return, the UPS had not come back and I became busy putting the house back in order.

Yes, The Christmas Cake I had baked well in advance for Christmas came out just right. It was well risen, soft, spongy and melted in the mouth. I will follow this recipe always hereafter. For the quantities mentioned, I filled a 9" dia. round pan and two 2½" x 6" loaf pans. One loaf of cake went to our neighbour Veena and the round cake travelled with our elder son and we enjoyed the remaining one loaf. I have already soaked more fruits for another cake, may be during New Year.

Many people, including my mother, asked me what I did for Xmas. The best thing worth mentioning was meeting Mrs. Thomas, she lives across from our home all alone in a huge house. She is unable to move out of her house because of a knee injury she suffered last year. She was so happy with my visit and spent a long time talking to me about various things (I allowed her to do all the talking, as she doesn’t get much opportunity to talk otherwise). My handsome and charming son said, “that was the best thing you did ma, spreading happiness to a lonely soul”. My Xmas was made.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Recipe: Christmas cake

I have baked my Christmas cake well in advance this year. At first I thought I would follow the same recipe as I did last year for Anand’s birthday cake. I looked into the recipe and to my shock I realised that I had not included flour in the recipe. Uh Oh. I have since corrected it.

Since I did not have all the ingredients I had listed in last year’s recipe and did not feel like rushing to the store, I modified the recipe to include available ingredients. Hubby dear had cut the dry fruits (cashew, almonds, pistachios, dry pineapple, dry ginger, dates, raisins, walnuts, pecans, plums and prunes) and soaked them in plenty of brandy a month ago. Usually I would add cherries,which I did not have this time. I remembered how I enjoyed my trips to Whole Foods where I could pick up all dry fruits at one counter.

I had been using margarine or hydrogenated vegetable oil or butter according to availability at home. Since my (handsome and charming, natch) son recently prohibited me from using hydrogenated oil (contains transfat, he says) I used home made butter.

As I did not have brown sugar this time, I used 1 tbsp. of caramelised sugar to get the color. To caramelise sugar, heat 1 tbsp sugar in a heavy bottomed pan, stirring continuously. When it starts melting, reduce heat until the color changes to dark brown. Remove from heat and extract the caramel with 1 tbsp of water or milk.

The following is the list of ingredients.

Mixed dry fruits marinated in brandy :400 gms
Eggs: 3
Butter: 150 gms
Flour: 125 gms
Sugar: 150gms
Grated chocolate: 1tbsp
Caramalised sugar: 1 tbsp
Cinnamon powder: 1tsp
Mixed spices: 1tsp
Sodium-bi-carbonate: 1/2 tsp
Milk: 1tbsp


Pre heat oven to 180 deg C (350 deg. F)

Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add eggs one by one to the creamed mixture and continue creaming till the mixture is light. Add the caramelised sugar and melted chocolate. Cream some more.

Sift the flour twice with cinnamon powder, powdered spices and sodium-bi-carbonate. Transfer the marinated fruits to a bowl and mix with 2 tbsp of sifted flour (this will prevent the fruits from sinking to the bottom of the cake).

Fold the sifted flour into the creamed mixture gently, alternating with the fruits mixture. Pour into a well greased and dusted baking pan and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hr. Reduce the temp. to 150 deg C (300 deg F) and bake for another 15 min. Test with a skewer.

Remove from the oven. Rest for 10mins. Invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Sweet ghee memories

Most of the recipes in my blog have been inspired by my culinary enthusiast (not to mention, handsome and charming) son. Ever since he left home and started living on his own, I could expect a call from him any time of the day or night, trans-atlantic or trans-pacific, asking for directions to prepare a certain dish. He would have bought the ingredients and would be wondering how to start or at times he would have started the process and wouldn’t know how to go on.

The other day he called me and asked me how to melt butter to get ghee. As he would never eat ghee or butter along with his rice or rotis or bread since his childhood, I couldn’t hide my surprise until he told me that he wanted to prepare Rava kesari for the Thanksgiving lunch they were planning at work.

Having grown up in a family where we had cows and buffaloes and hence lots of milk and butter, I had never imagined anyone would need a lesson on making ghee from butter until I moved outside our village. In our house we had big vengalapanais in which a huge quantity of milk was boiled and set to form curd. We had separate vengalapanais for cows’ and buffaloes’ milk. We took turns in churning the curds early in the mornings and were rewarded by a big dollop of warm and fresh butter at the end of the chore. Nobody needed any cardio exercises on a treadmill. There was a big pole fixed on the corner of the kitchen to which two metallic chains with rings were attached. The vengalapanai containing the curds was placed on a coaster(kalavadai) made of coir. The mathu(churning wheel)was placed inside the curds and the metallic rings were slipped on to the mathu. There was another cord made of cotton thread which was wound around the mathu, between the rings, with long ends trailing at both ends, which was pulled from both ends. This is the best cardio exercise one could get. You do this for 5 minutes, presto, your warm fresh butter floats on top of the fresh butter milk. The cows milk butter was creamy yellow and the buffalo butter was white.

This butter was made into ghee every other day as there were no refrigerators to keep the butter fresh. The butter was washed in plenty of water to remove all the butter milk and put in a big kadai and heated, stirring constantly, until you got a fragrant golden yellow liquid ghee. The ghee was strained and stored in clay jars to retain its freshness. It set to a sand like texture. The residue of ghee is very tasty and we children vied with each other to get our idlis or rice tossed in the fresh ghee residue.

The trick of keeping the ghee fragrant and fresh for long time is in heating the butter to the right "doneness." As the butter is being melted, the water content in the butter evaporates making a hissing noise. Once the water content is fully evaporated, the liquid turns to a golden color with a good aroma. This is the right time to switch off the stove. If one is using a thick pan to melt the butter, it is better to pour the ghee into another container immediately, as the ghee may turn blacker because of the heat retained by the pan.

There is an interesting story told about the readiness of ghee. A new daughter in-law was asked by her mother-in-law to prepare ghee. The daughter-in-law did not know how to melt butter and she asked her neighbour how to test the readiness of the ghee. The neighbour told her, "Orosai adangina vanaliye erakku" (Remove the pan from the stove when the noise stops). The daughter in-law took it as Oorosai (the noise in the street) and kept the pan on the stove and sat the front door of the house, waiting for the noise on the street to subside. The rest of the story can only be well imagined. This was the story told to young girls to be careful when preparing ghee. Delay a minute and the ghee will lose its color and aroma and grainy texture.

Many theories are propounded by the new age culinary gurus to retain the freshness of the ghee. Some people say, add a pinch of turmeric powder, some say add a few curry leaves, yet others say add a few thulasi leaves. I would say, heat the ghee to the right doneness and store. It will remain fresh for ever.

If the ghee is not heated to the right doneness, it goes stale very fast and gives a very bad odour. When we were children, there were always some impromptu lunch sponsored by neighbours on occasions like a child's birthday or a "kappu ceremony" or a "thottil ceremony." It was a practice to serve ghee after rice was served and I was often surprised that the ghee smelt rotten. I used to come home and tell my Echiyamma about it and she would say, they have not heated the butter properly. "But they bought the ghee from our house this morning," I would say. What was the mystery of the fragrant ghee turning to a foul smelling ghee by the time they served, I never understood.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Recipe: Olan

Olan is the simplest and a unique dish of Kerala with no spice at all in it(except green chillies, which is optional) flavoured with coconut milk and coconut oil and fresh curry leaves. Yet, when made with the right ingredients in the right proportion, it tastes heavenly. It is made with simple gourds and cowpeas which makes it a very healthy diet even for invalids. No big feast is complete without olan on the menu.

The vegetables used have high medicinal value and are easily digestible and low in calories. Ash gourd, for example is rich in calcium and vit. B and C and fibre. It is also a diuretic and its juice is particularly good for diabetics and the obese . Sweet red pumpkin is rich in Vitamins A and B, protein and calcium and is a low calorie vegetable. Cow peas though a high calorie food is rich in protein, calcium and vitamins A and B.

Red Pumpkin(ripe with a hard outer shell) :250 gms
Ash gourd(winter melon) :250 gms
Cowpeas : 2 tbsps. Or more according to taste

( tenderfresh green pods of the peas(lobia) are also used in preparation of Olan)
in case fresh lobia are used,
lobia :50 gms.

Coconut oil : 2 tsps.
Curry leaves: few
Jaggery : a small piece
Green chillies: 1 or 2
Salt to taste.

Soak the cow peas (if using dry peas) for 4 – 5 hrs or overnight.
Remove the skin and slice the gourds into 1½" to 2" thin squares. If using fresh lobia, cut them into 2" pieces. Slit the green chillies. Pressure cook the peas and vegetables and chillies until peas are soft. Add salt and jaggery and boil until the curry is thick (gourds will release their water content when cooked). Remove from heat, add curry leaves and coconut oil. Olan is ready to serve.

Olan can be prepared using only ash gourd and cow peas. Follow the same method as above, just before removing from the stove add a table spoon of thick coconut milk.

There is another variety of olan, called "Thondolan" prepared using raw bananas and lobia.

Raw banana :1
Cow peas :1 tbsp.
Jaggery : a small piece
Salt to taste
Coconut oil : 2 tsps.

Slice raw banana vertically once and then into 2mm slices. Cook along with pre-soaked cow peas and add salt and jaggery and flavour with coconut oil and curry leaves.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Bangalore - From an Air conditioned city to a city with air conditioners

We are almost into December and are still using the fans throughout the day and night and are sweating. When people away from home ask us how the weather is, they expect us to say, it is cold, or atleast, it is pleasant. We can only say it is hot. Is this the same city which was once known as airconditioned city?

Time was (this is only as recent as the early 70s when we moved to this wonderful city, the natives of Bangalore will have even more shivering tales to recount) when Bangalore had a salubrious climate. It was a pensioners’ paradise. It was a city which went to bed early and woke up quite late, because of the chill.. Unlike many other cities of India, no milkman rang the doorbell at 5.30am here. He would come only at 7.30am. People with little kids who need to be given milk early morning did not have to fret about not having a refrigerator. The whole house was like a refrigerator. No food went bad here. The vegetables remained fresh in room temperature. Not many people had a fridge. Fridge was more of a status symbol.

There were no fans fitted either. When we came from Delhi on transfer to Bangalore, our fan boxes remained unopened for years together, as we did not feel the need for a fan. If the Chennai residents say, Chennai has only three seasons, hot, hotter and hottest, we Bangaloreans were proud to say, we also have only three seasons, cold, colder and coldest. We did not have summers. Ours was a summer resort. If we had to make "vattal, vadam or karuvadam" we could not afford to be complacent. We had just 2 to 3 weeks from Sivarathri to make these things, between our winter and monsoons, which started by the end of March. Our monsoon would start with some pre-monsoon showers before Ugadi and go on till December.

Bangaloreans sported a monkey cap all through the year. They also a wore a woolen vest throughout the year. It was treat to watch the elderly Bangaloreans (the proper Bangaloreans who owned most of the agricultural lands/residential properties here) moving around on a rickety bicycle wearing a black coat and a turban. People went to vegetable shopping with a coat on. Early mornings were very chill. Bangalore women made the rangolis in their front yards in the evenings as mornings would be quite foggy and chill. We had green covers wherever we went. Ulsoor was the city limits during those days. No city map showed any place beyond Ulsoor, except a winding road from Trinity church towards airport called airport road, which was almost always deserted. You take a turn towards the airport road, the temperature dipped further as the roads were lined with trees and casurina forests.

During late 70s when we were allotted a residential plot along the airport road, we came to visit the place and were unable to find our way to the proposed site as the area around it was marshy and wooded.

Knitting enthusiasts like me could knit all year around. It was a pleasure to get out the house on weekends with kids to go to Lalbagh or Cubbon Park and enjoy the warmth of the sun. If Chennai had a cyclone, Bangalore just had downpours. The only industrialisation Bangalore had was some Public Sector undertakings with their own transport system to carry their employees. These were the only buses which crowded the roads during their shift changes. Otherwise public transport was very sparse. Bangaloreans were happy cycling around. People belonging to slightly elite class used scooters/motor cycles/mopeds. It was quite safe to travel by two wheelers, even for ladies.

With the 1980s came the boom of small scale industries in around Bangalore and there were more mopeds on the roads. City started expanding beyond Ulsoor towards the airport and all around. We still had winters which were quite cold.

With the software boom Bangalore exploded with people, private entreprenuers, multi-storied buildings and cars. The single and two storied skyline gave way to huge apartment complexes, mostly built on converted agricultural lands. They mostly depended on deep bore-wells to quench the thirst of their residents. The green covers started depleting, the ground water level went down further, lakes started drying up and in the new century, Bangalore started becoming warmer and warmer with very hot summers and next to nil winters. The whole city is dusty and polluted with motor exhausts and the city these days does not sleep. The once sleepy airport road is always congested with traffic and one cannot cross the road any time of the day.There are multi-storied building lining the airport road representing almost all software companies from all around the globe. The air conditioning business is thriving.