Thursday, November 14, 2013

Soul Food / Comfort food - Vethakoyambu with a side of cluster beans and green gram

Authentic "vethal" koyambu is made with vethal's, sun dried vegetables and berries like Cluster beans, bitter gourd, bitter variety of wild berries called shundakai & marthangalikkai in Tamil, I have no idea what their botanical names are. 

During harvest, they are cleaned, cut, salted, dried and stored away to be used on a rainy day.

Vethakoyambu can also be made with broken pieces of pappadam or with fenugreek seeds (Mendhiyam).

When we don't find an ingredient we need, we look for an alternative ingredient available to us.  So here goes my dysfunctional cooking with vethakoyambu made using with fresh vegetables.

Vethakoyambu with onions, capsicum and tomatoes

- 1 medium onion diced
- 1 or 2 capsicum(green pepper) diced
- 1 large tomato diced.
- 1/4 cup precooked tur dal(skinned and halfed lentils)
- 1 tbsp tamarind paste or pulp diluted in 2-3 cups of water
- 1 or 2 tbsp Vethakoyambu powder from grand sweets (or any brand of sambhar powder or home made) depends on the spice level you want.
- 1/4 tsp Asafetida
- Turmeric powder and salt to taste

To Sauté:
- 1-2 tbsp sesame oil(or any cooking oil),
- 1 tsp mustard seeds,
- 2 tbsp chana dal(black gram dal),
- 2 tbsp tur dal(skinned and split Pigeon peas),
- 6-8 curry leaves

For thickening:
- 1 tbsp rice flour (can substitute with besan/chick peas flour) and dilute in 1/4 cup of water. I use a whisk to avoid lumps from forming.
(Double the quantity of thickening mixture if you don't have precooked dal.  Never used dal pre- grand sweets Vethakoyambu powder days.  Its very spicy but tasty and the dal helps.)
  1. Take oil in a deep wok, or vessel, add the dals and fry until the oil starts to froth, add mustard seeds and allow them pop. then add the curry leaves and stir well.  They will sizzle..
  2. Add vethakoyambu powder, turmeric, and asafetida and stir well.
  3. Add onions, stir; add capsicum, stir. 
  4. Let it cook for a 4-5 minutes on medium heat stirring occasionally
  5. Add tomatoes and cook for 2-3 additional minutes.
  6. Then add the diluted tamarind and bring to a rolling boil.  Lower heat and let boil for an additional 5-8 minutes until the raw taste of tamarind is completely gone.
  7. Add the precooked tur dal softened in 2-4 tbsp of water and bring back to a rolling boil
  8. Finally add the diluted rice flour, stirring continuously, allow it to thicken for 2-4 minutes
  9. Let it boil for a few more (5-6 minutes) in medium heat. 
  10. The more you boil and thicken the koyambu the tastier it gets and the longer it will keep.
  11. Take a few tablespoons of koyambu and mix with steamed rice, add a few drops of sesame oil to elevate the flavors.  .

Cluster beans and green gram vegetable side dish

- 1 lb fresh cluster beans, with the edges removed and cut to inch long pieces OR 1 bag of frozen cluster beans(Guvar, available at Indian stores in the US)
- 1 lb Fresh green Bengal gram in pod(remove from pod) OR 1/2 bag of frozen green chana(available in Indian stores) OR 1/4 cup green or brown dry chana soaked overnight
- 1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
- salt to taste

 For tadka(sauté):
- 2-3 tsp oil
- 1 tsp mustard
- 1 tsp udid dal

  1. In a wok, heat the oil, add mustard seeds and udid dal, let the mustard splutters and dal is brown.
  2. Reduce heat, add the cluster beans and whole green chana, stir well
  3. Add turmeric and salt, sprinkle 2-3 tbsp of water cover and cook until the vegetable is cooked but still crunchy, the raw taste gone.  It should take ~10-12 mins to be done, 
  4. Remove cover, stir well and continue to cook until the oil starts to glisten.
  5. It tastes good as a side dish for sambhar and rasam, too.
My dysfunctional cooking improvised mom's ultimate comfort food of pappadam vethakoyambu and parappu thogayal (lentil chutney) to another great combination of mixed vegetable vethakoyambu with cluster beans curry. The compliment each other beautifully and have become our comfort food.

Cluster beans are slightly bitter and the green chana is slightly bland, together they make a tasty dish.  We love it & our girls love it, too.  It makes a great side with more(buttermilk) koyambu, too.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Diwali Special.. Sheera cake with left over haldiram rasgolla sugar syrup.. :)

Wish you all a very Happy Diwali and Saal Mubarak(Happy New Year). 

Diwali Diya(lamp) lit early in the morning before sunrise
This year we decided not to make sweets or savories for Diwali since the girls were busy with their activities thru the weekend.   Ed had a brilliant idea, "Let's open a dabba(box/can) of Haldiram rasgolla's" he said, and for once I agreed, everyone loves it at home and we always stock a couple for special occasions.

Later, while rummaging around the garage fridge, I found the last box of  Sri Krishna Sweets(India) Mysore pak hidden away, they stay good for at least a year refrigerated..  Savories, we had some from the Indian store, last weekend we bought some Anand  jackfruit chips and Swad corn chewda, added some Swad boondi to it to make it mixture, a south-indian must have for Diwali.

Diwali breakfast - Idli, chutney,
jackfruit chips, chewda,
Rasgolla, and Mysore pak
Early morning did the naivedyam and heated up some Deep idli's in the microwave and liquefied some Nirav coriander chutney to go with and we had our yummy Diwali breakfast.

As evening came the rasgolla's were almost gone but more than 1/2 a can of the sugar syrup remained, reluctant to dump it in the sink, I have refrigerated it in the past and then thrown it away after a week.  This time I was determined to try something and what better reason than it's Diwali today!  Looked up for recipes online, but wasn't successful finding any.   Have always loved my sister's Satyanarayan puja sheera made with milk. so thought why not. 

Diwali Naivedhya (or Naivedyam) of sweets and savories
We had the sooji(rava/cream of wheat), the sugar syrup, milk, but wait the store bought Ghee bottle was empty!  Think that would stop a determined me, never! Luckily, we had butter as my younger daughter has been on a baking spree these past few weeks.  So first, I had to make some ghee, well that's another recipe..  not really but let me add it separately for folks who want to make some of the good stuff at home.

Ghee made, drained the liquid ghee into a steel vessel before it hardened and allowed the darkened impurities to stay at the bottom, my older daughter and husband love to eat the left overs, so nothing wasted. 

Here goes the recipe for Sheera Cake(cake, as in cut into diamond shape).  Didn't take many pictures while making the improvised recipe based on watching sis make it over the years.  I can safely say it was a super hit at our house, it all gone by the next morning.

Sheera Cake with Haldiram's left over sugar syrup
From Left, Greetings, Rava(Soji), Sugar syrup, ghee remnants, milk, sheera being stirred, cashew,
Indian golden raisins(kismis) and Sheera Cake cut and ready to serve
- 1 and 1/2 cups of milk
- 1 and 1/2 cups of water
- 1 and 1/2 cups of the leftover rasgolla sugar syrup (strained)
- 1 cup sooji/rava/cream of wheat(we shall call it rava)
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup ghee(there will be some leftover)
- 1 handful cashews
- 1 handful raisins
(can add more or less of both)

To color and flavor
- a few(7-8) strands of saffron
- 4-6 cardamom (elaichi) peeled and powdered

  1. Take 1 tbsp of ghee in a small pan, when hot, add the cashew and stir for a couple of minutes.  then add raisins and stir until the raisins are puffed up and the cashews is a golden brown, remove from pan and keep aside
  2. Using the same kadai. I wiped it clean with a paper towel, add the rava and stir in 1/2 tbsp ghee.  Stir slowly until it starts to brown takes ~4-5 minutes on low to medium flame.  Remove from pan and keep aside(if left in the pan it will continue to cook and brown).
  3. In a larger kadai, you need the extra space for stirring so it does not spill over add the milk and water and a few strands of saffron(kesar), once it starts to get hot, lower the heat and add the strained sugar syrup and stir in well.  Allow it come to a slow boil increase to medium heat. ~2-3 minutes.
  4. Reduce the heat to a minimum and add the roasted rava slowly with one hand while stirring with the other, so it does not form lumps.
  5. Add 2-3 tbsp of ghee and keep stirring until it starts to thicken(~2-3 minutes) still on low heat.
  6. Stir in the roasted cashews and raisins from step 1.  You could add them in at the end, if you like the crunch, or over the top just before cutting into slices,  I prefer it cooked in as it spreads out evenly.
  7. Increase the heat to medium low and add 2-3 more tbsp of ghee, continue stirring it will harden as the water gets absorbed.
  8. Test if the rava is fully cooked.  If you feel its too grainy and dry, then add 2-3 tbsp of water or milk and continue stirring.  It should not burn or brown.
  9. Once its done it will leave the sides of the pan easily and the ghee starts to glisten and ooze out, the cooking time is ~12-15 minutes after adding the rava.
  10. The more ghee you add the more ghee will ooze out when done.  1/2 a cup of ghee is plenty.
  11. Add elaichi powder and stir well.
  12. You don't need to grease the plate.  I like to transfer it to a glass Pyrex and then cut into diamond shape..  Easier to serve and eat..
  13. Using the back of a spoon or a knife to make 3/4" wide cuts going in one direction and then a 3/4 or 1" going diagonal to the first, to make diamond shapes.
  14. You can make it look fancy; brush ghee across the top, or sprinkle edible glitter or spread silver foil or press in a sliver of almond or a raisin.  You could also roll it into balls and place in a small cupcake wrapper if you want to serve to guests.
  15. Let it cool before covering with a lid.  We had missing corners before it had cooled.  So I know it was a hit.
Could we call it sugar free since technically we never used any sugar.  No way!  Enjoy a delicious sweet treat with leftover sugar syrup from Haldiram's rasgolla.  You can use any kind of left over sugar syrup.  If it's thick, dilute on the stove with some water before using.

Hope you enjoyed making my dysfunctional style of cooking sooji/rava sheera, kesari, halwa whatever it may be called across India; a tried and tested recipe in most homes. Mom's 'sunset yellow' food colored rava kesari was never one of my favorite sweets, so never bothered to make it.  Now I'm pretty sure each time we open a Haldiram's rasgolla dabba there will be a request for this Sheera cake!

Tip: Additional milk or water may be needed as it depends on how much liquid is absorbed by the rava to cook.  I used milk and needed 1/2 cup more which I added a few spoonful's at a time as needed before it was done.