Notice I say “vegetable” and not “vegetarian” laksa ? Well, there’s a reason for it and I wouldn’t want to lie. While I am a full-time vegetarian, there are some things for which I shift the Vegetarian line a little. Fruit jubes are one such item – it is a well known fact that they have gelatine in them but they are so yummy I cannot resist. My mother who is quite often a proselytizing (ha ha , big word ! It means the act of trying to convert others) vegetarian has a soft spot for fruit jubes. Of course, these days, pectin is used as a substitute but a couple of decades ago, it wasn’t so common, not even in India.
Curry laksa is another dish for which I slightly modify the definition of “vegetarian”. Those who have eaten laksa will agree with me that it is this amazing taste explosion. Once you’ve had a good laksa, you will crave for more. One of our favourite hangouts in Melbourne was a place called “Coconut curry house” that made some pretty awesome curry laksa. If you are ever there, you must try some. More recently, a Malaysian colleague of mine brought us over some authentic curry laksa. Her mum made the paste and she put it together. We thought it was super fantastic and ever since that day, I’ve been wanting to make some myself. I am currently working on getting her to give me her mum’s recipe but it isn’t so straightforward. In a desperate attempt, I went to the one Malaysian store in this town to buy some laksa paste.
Turning the packet over for ingredients is something I do out of habit. Sure enough, in decent sized letters were the words “shrimp paste”. Of course, I went through the internal dialogue and emotional turmoil of “should I, shouldn’t I” and did look for a vegetarian version of the paste. I had no luck finding a vegetarian version and my craving won so I came back with the paste, some fried tofu, slender eggplants, bean sprouts and bok choy (Chinese cabbage). If I have offended you at this point, please don’t read on. My next recipe will be a 100% vegetarian I promise.
For a packet laksa, it turned out pretty well but given it is from a packet, it is a “cheat’s” laksa. The paste make a LOT of laksa sauce so be willing to share with friends and neighbours. I have two boxes frozen down for a rainy day. The current English summer is giving us plenty of rainy days so it shouldn’t be hard to find an occasion to eat more laksa.
Vegetable Malaysian curry laksa
Bhath ( pronounced “bath”) in Kannada means mixed rice. It refers to an almost inexhaustible family of vegetarian friendly dishes. It is great for when you have many guests and you don’t want to spend the evening explaining what goes with what and how to eat it. All you need to do is serve bhath hot or cold, on its own or with a bit of raita (plain unsweetened yoghurt with salt and grated cucumber). One thing you do need to make in advance is the bhath mix which is a powdered mixture of all the spices required. The mix keeps for months so you don’t have to make it each time. I have a recipe for the bhath mix, the bhath itself and a simple raita. Hope you like it!
I will use these terms interchangeably in this post – moolangi, mooli, daikon, radish. Moolangi or daikon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daikon) is a long, white, carrot like vegetable and brings back many childhood memories. As a child, I absolutely hated it. Not because it tasted bad, but every time mum cooked it, the house smelt like half a dozen cows were simultaneously having tummy problems. Mum would make moolangi rotis using grated daikon but the first step to that was squeezing out all the liquid from the grated daikon. The juice was particularly pungent and I would avoid loitering around the kitchen whenever moolangi was on the menu. As I said before, the smell was the main deterrent but the taste of the soft rotis and the mollangi sambhar that mum made was always very good.
As a mature adult (ahem), when mum or I cook moolangi now, I don’t go around with my fingers pinching my nose any more. Having lived away from home for so long, I crave moolangi sambhar every now and then. I happened to spot daikon in our local supermarket one evening and got very very excited. This recipe is a result of my excitement.
If you are wondering what “sambhar” is, it is a thick, tangy, lentil-based soup. Like a lot of South Indian dishes, the centre piece of sambhar is the spice mix or sambhar powder. Unlike its South Indian companion Rasam, sambhar does not contain any tomatoes but often contains various vegetables including moolangi.
Moolangi sambhar with rice and poppadum
This dish takes me back to my school days. There were 4 of us in what we called our “gang” but there’s only so much a “gang” can do for fun in an all-girls Catholic school so we were a pretty harmless “gang”. One of the gang members’ mum would make this every time we went over to her place and it was the yummiest thing ever. Every now and then, she would bring it to school as lunch. and the other two (not me) would somehow get to it before she did and finish it off. I didn’t care much for writing down recipes back then so this one is my take on aloo paratha. Hope you like it.
Aloo paratha ready to eat
The recipe for ‘rasam‘ was my very first recipe post and rasam is what my site is named after. However, I realised recently that I hadn’t posted any pictures for this lovely dish. It just so happened that I made some this weekend and I took some pictures this time. So here they are along with some minor changes to the recipe.
The essence of this delicious dish is the spice mix called rasam podi or saaru pudi. This is the mixture of spices that gives Rasam it’s unique taste. It is pepper and chilly based and is the cure for many a common malaise (Read about them in my Old wives’ page for Rasam).
The rasam or saaru powder is special in that every south Indian household has their own take on it. This is passed on through generations of mums, grandmas and greatgrandmas and in my opinion is the most valuable form of inheritance – knowledge. Needless to say, every south Indian person tends to be partial to their mum’s/grandma’s/greatgrandma’s take on the dish and I’m no exception. My mum’s rasam is the best rasam in the world and she makes it exactly like her mum did. Even as a child, I was unimpressed with the other rasams in the area and would report back to mum about how the rasam next door wasn’t the greatest. Never mind being thankful for the invitation to eat there.
Without much ado, let me give you the recipe for mum’s rasam podi and rasam itself.
- Saaru or Rasam
THIS IS NOT MY OWN RECIPE!!
Another one of my favourite Indian chef’s recipes. I bought myself a book called “How to cook Indian” and was terribly disappointed not to see any pictures in it. However, the recipes I’ve tried so far have yielded great results and this roti recipe is one of them. These rotis (flatbread) are crispy because of the chickpea flour well spiced so you can eat them on their own as a snack. A smear of butter on a hot roti will not go amiss !
Spicy chickpea flour and fenugreek rotis
THIS IS NOT MY OWN RECIPE !!
Aloo’ means potatoes in Hindi. ‘Dum’ means strength or pressure and in this context, it means that the potatoes are cooked with a lid covering them so they are under pressure due to the build up of steam. The pressure is important as it helps the potatoes soak up the flavours of the sauce they are in. ‘Amritsari’ implies that it came from the city of Amritsar in the state of Punjab.
This potato dish was a novelty when I was a child and I always imagined only special people in the restaurant could make it because my mum never did. My dad who worked in Calcutta, West Bengal when he was younger would rave about ‘Dum Aloo’ or ‘Aloo dum’ but I never got to taste it until I was an adult. All I knew was that you had to use whole baby potatoes to make it and that it was awesome.
In my early teens when mum would let me tinker in the kitchen, I’d attempt to make what I imagined dum aloo should be like. Of course, I only used the simplest of ingredients (onions, tomatoes, potatoes and garam masala +coriander for garnish) back then and mum had to help me fry the potatoes. I like this grown-ups recipe better with a lot more spice and a partiality towards chilli and I try not to fry the potatoes because they can be quite oily.
Sanjeev Kapoor's Dum Aloo Amritsari