I have posted recipes from “Moro The Cookbook” by Sam and Sam Clarke before. After Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem”, this is one of my favourite collection of recipes from the Middle East. As the name “Moro” suggests, the recipes in this cookbook are a Spanish-Islamic fusion dating back to the Moors who came from Morocco and ruled the Iberian peninsula (Spain, Portugal, Andorra, parts of Southern France and Gibraltar) for nearly 700 years.
Given I am a vegetarian, I have probably not used this book to its full capacity but the vegetarian recipes such as Aubergine and red pepper salad with caramelised butter, Carrot and cumin salad with coriander and fatayer that I have tried so far have been spectacular. This recipe is another one of Sam & Sam’s vegetarian gems – the sweet tartness of the orange, the salty-oiliness of the olives and the crispy-gooey-saltiness of the grilled feta are a match made in heaven.
Bisi (pronounced : be+see) bele (pronounced : bay+lay) bhath (pronounced : bath) is an old stalwart in the Bangalorean/Kannada kitchen. Simply put, it is a one pot dish consisting of rice, yellow lentils (split pigeon peas or toor dal), assorted vegetables and optional dollops of ghee/butter. It is one of those dishes that will always be dear to my heart and my taste buds and I’m very glad my husband loves it too. My version has red-skinned peanuts in it which my mum would absolutely shun but hey, it’s MY version.
The last time I made this dish was while I was on holiday and was busy playing with my then recently acquired Nokia D200. The result was a somewhat burnt spice mix (shhh), lots of not-so-great pictures (that caused the burning) but a delicious bisi bele bhath for a rather late lunch / early dinner. I have given you the recipe for the spice mix as well as the dish itself. Hope you will give it a go!
Bisi bele bhath with greek yoghurt on the side – It tastes better than in looks, I promise
WordPress tells me that it is my 100th post. I never thought I’d get here when I started writing on a cold winter’s night in December 2011. I also wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the constant support and encouragement of my partner (now husband). To all others who have been with me from the time canwehavesomerasam started, I am eternally grateful. You keep my spirits up, encourage me and make me want to share my kitchen experiments with you. I hope you continue to do so and that I don’t disappoint you.
As this is a landmark post, I’d like to dedicate this post to my paternal grandma, Madras ajji who passed away a year ago. “Ajji” is the Kannada word for grandma and Madras, or Chennai as it is known as today, was where she lived most of her life. Despite being a diabetic for as long as I can remember, she still had a super-soft spot for sweets/pudding. The picture of her smiling in front of a large chocolate cake, on her 80th birthday, is one I will always have in my head when I think of her. While Mysore pak may not have been her favourite dessert, it definitely ranked highly on her list and hence, the dedication.
What is Mysore pak ? Well it is essentially Indian fudge made with just 3 ingredients – chickpea flour (or besan), sugar (white, refined, caster sugar) and ghee (clarified butter). As you can see, none of these ingredients are meant to be healthy. The word “paka” pronounced as you would “parka” means a sticky syrup usually made from sugar or jaggery/palm sugar. Mysore was the capital of Karnataka for nearly six centuries until the end of the British rule in 1947. Legend has it that Mysore pak was invented in the royal kitchens of the Mysore palace and the royalty enjoyed it so much that they got the cook to set up a stall outside the palace so it could be shared with the common people. Today, it is one of the most popular desserts in the state and features on many a wedding, birthday, and anniversary feast.
Note: Don’t be fooled by the simple ingredients – Mysore pak is one of the hardest desserts to get right and timing is everything. I hope to demonstrate it to you with my good and not-so-good versions.
Good version of Mysore pak : Soft and literally melts in the mouth
What is a dosa ? For starters, it is pronouced “Though-sah”. It is a South Indian crepe or savoury pancake and is the pride and joy of that part of the country. There is nothing like a fresh brown, crispy dosa served with a little blob of butter melting on top of it. The city where I come from (Bangalore) and the state it belongs to (Karnataka) take the humble dosa very very seriously. In fact, a good dosa joint is worth sitting in traffic for along time. Luckily for us, when we visited Bangalore, one of the best dosa places in town was across the road from where we stayed. At the cost of about 60pence a dosa, we had they to our heart’s content!
The traditional dosa is made mainly of lentils ( urid dal) and par-boiled (partially boiled and dried) rice with little embellishments such as fenugreek seeds and cumin seeds. One starts by soaking the lentils and rice overnight to soften them. Then, each ingredient is ground to a slightly gritty (grit size about 1mm) paste in a strong kitchen blender or a dosa grinder. The batter for dosa is then made by mixing the two pastes, adding a bit of salt and allowing the batter to ferment for 8-10 hrs but usually overnight. The natural yeast in the air are what makes dosa batter ferment. If you are in a cold country, then your best choice is to place the dosa batter inside your boiler cupboard to ferment.
The resulting batter is airy, slightly tangy smelling and an absolute treat once cooked. Mum says that the ratio of rice to lentils for dosa batter is 3:1 and perhaps a tablespoon of fenugreek seeds (to soak with the lentils). Cook dosas like you would cook any pancake with vegetable oil to easy the edges of the pan. While a lot of taste is in the dosa itself, the things that go with dosa add a whole new dimension to this traditional crepe. The most popular form of filling for a dosa is one made with boiled potatoes. In addition, dosas are served with chutneys (dips) made of coconuts, chillies, onions, garlic and roasted lentils.
Today’s blog is going to be about the friends of a dosa. The dosa I made was a cheat as I bought an instant-mix by a company called MTR. If you don’t have easy access to an Indian store to buy MTR dosa mix, you can make dosas out of semolina and standard flour. Use one cup of semolina and half a cup of standard flour, mix in one cup of yoghurt, salt and enough water to make a pancake-like batter. To jazz it up a bit, you can add finely chopped onions, green chillies and cumin seeds to the batter too.
Dosa and its friends: Top left = Potato curry ; Top centre = Lentil, onion and chilli chutney; Top right = Coconut and coriander chutney; Bottom centre = MTR’s instant dosa
Why the addiction – well these books respect vegetables like I have been taught to respect them as a life time vegetarian. Growing up in a South Indian household, my mother and grandma had endless ways of making vegetables exciting and I try and continue this tradition till today. However, I’m also a little more adventurous that mum and grandma and I cannot eat the same/similar things day in and day out. This is something I did quite gladly did when I was still dependent on my parents, but ever since I’ve moved out on my own, my kitchen has been a bit of a playground, as is this blog I host.
Jerusalem, Moro and Ottolenghi, while laden with meat-based recipes are also quite generous with their coverage of vegetable/vegetarian dishes from Eastern Mediterranean regions, Israel, Palestine with influences from Italy, Spain and Northern Africa. Overall, these vegetables are prepared quite differently (most of the time) to how I’d prepare them as a person of South Indian upbringing and I find that really really exciting. Sometimes, I find some similarities and start thinking about the origins of certain food and how recipes might have travelled from one region to another in ancient time.
To summarize it is food, vegetarian food, exciting vegetarian food and I love it! Food to me is most satisfying when I’ve made it and others are enjoying it 🙂 An opportunity presented itself when we decided to host a dinner and board games evening at our place. While I usually cook Indian food, I decided that I’d try recipes from my recently acquired books instead. There was a deathly silence as everyone sat eating until one of our friends spoke up and said , “You know the food is good when everyone is too busy eating and cannot stop to speak”. I’m going to call it a successful experiment based on this !
My menu and links to the recipes are presented below. I managed to take a lot of pictures for the first few dishes and then ran out of time and my guests arrived so I couldn’t keep clicking any more. Hope you try some of the recipes and like them !
I think I mentioned in a post before (Fenugreek) that “soppu” in Kannada refers to green leafy vegetables. This includes spinach, silver beet, fenugreek leaves and a whole host of leaves that were easily and regularly available where I grew up in Bangalore. “Soppu” was usually more expensive than vegetables but given it is full of minerals and vitamins, mum never skimped on them. We’d have soppu 2-3 times a week quite easily.
“Palya” is another Kannada word that usually refers to any cooked vegetable. Potato palya, carrot palya, beans palya are commonly heard in a Kannada household. “Mudhdhe” means (to me at least) a sticky ball of rice/rice+lentils/several different flours. The addition of lentils to these cooked greens makes them sticky and if cooked long enough, it can come together into a sticky ball.
In England, I don’t often find the greens that I grew up on and even if I did, I couldn’t tell one from the other because mum and dad always shopped for them not I. So, for this dish, I’ve gone with spinach which you should be able to get your hands on in most places. In this particular form of the recipe, I use frozen spinach but the fresh kind can be easily substituted. With fresh spinach, expect a lot more moisture and a slightly longer cooking time.
Don’t ask me why, but I love the word “quintessential”. My problem lies in using it in the correct context and after a few chats with my partner, I think I have got it. So it is with great confidence that I say that “Akki rottis” are a quintessentially Kannada dish. These rice based flatbreads comes from the state of Karnataka where I grew up and are a popular breakfast or light dinner option. The word “akki” means rice, usually uncooked. The word “rotti” means bread, usually unleavened. This flatbread is soft and crunchy at the same time, is full of tasty veggies and has a slight sweetness because of the cucumber and rice flour which I love. I always took a lion’s share of “rottis” when mum made them at home and wolfed them down with a smattering of butter.
This was my first attempt at making it myself after I’d spent the entire afternoon at work day-dreaming about it. It was a big hit with my partner and at lunch the next day. I’ll be making some more soon I’m sure. Hope you try it and like it too.