Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sambar for the soul

    To me comfort food is soul food. Ask any south indian, sambar is in their comfort food list. It goes with variety of  dishes like Idli sambar, sambar rice, vada sambar, pongal sambar  and sambar in itself is a satisfying dish when made with lots of veggies.
  Whenever I visit India , I bring back sambar powder(customs withstanding),I store most of it in the freezer to keep its freshness. Sambar powder is like a family crest. Each family has its own unique combination of ingredients. The one that my mother-in-law and my mother make have the same ingredients but in different ratio.Making of the sambar podi (as it is called in Tamil) is a process.
      My mother buys the tuvaram paruppu  ,kadala paruppu, red chillies, coriander seeds, turmeric root, milagu and vendhayam.
Her podi ratio is as below

Dhaniya or coriander seeds 500gms
Red chilli 500 gm( short round chilli 250 gms and long thin chilli 250 gms)
Tuvaram paruppu  or toor dal  150 gm
Kadala paruppu or chana dal 75gms
Vendayam  or methi seeds 1 tablespoon
Molagu or black pepper 1tablespoon
Manjal or turmeric root (thin long variety) 50gms

Roast all ingredients till slightly warm. In tropical countries like India, people just take everything to the terrace and let the scorching sun warm the ingredients. This ensures that the powder can be stored for long without moisture or pests affecting it. All of this is put together and taken to the Flour Mill for grinding into sambar powder. The machine needs to be clean of any previous grinding as this alters the taste of the powder too. The machine powders it fine in a few minutes. The sambar podi will be warm and should be allowed to cool down completely to avoid condensation before storing it in a airtight container.This recipe yields about one and a half months supply for a sambar loving household of four. The same ratio can be used and the powder made in a mixie grinder but in several batches as the mixie tends to heat up easily for greater quantities. I feel it will not be worth the effort if sambar powder is made  daily  for one time use.
There are exceptions when making araithu vitta sambar(which is made with coconut flakes).
Making the sambar
  I love how adaptable sambar is. You can make sambar with one vegetable or as many as you can find in your fridge or in the grocers. Different combinations of vegetables produce distinct flavors like capsicum, drumstick, radish, onion etc make different varieties of sambar.

    Toor dal is the most important ingredient of the sambar as it is what gives it body. It takes the longest to cook so when you get the idea to cook sambar, cook the dal first.I usually use the pressure cooker. Soak the toor dal in water, with about half an inch standing above it .Then add half a tsp of turmeric powder in it. Now,pressure cook it for about 3 whistles. The dal must be cooked well, must be mushy. For those without a pressure cooker, It takes a while to cook dal on the stove top, it needs constant stirring or else the dal burns and sticks to the bottom of the pan.
I cup toor dal
sambar podi  1 tbsp
Veggies-red pumpkin a few cubes, capsicum a few pieces, white radish a few pieces, brinjal 1 medium, carrots(cut the veggies almost the same size except for the red pumpkin which tends to get mushy so cut that  a little bigger).
Methi seeds half a tsp
mustard seeds 1 tsp
oil for tempering
curry leaves a few
coriander leaves  few
tamarind lemon size or tamarind paste 1 tsp
small piece of jaggery or gur
asafoetida or hing 1/4 tsp
Salt to taste

1. Soak the tamarind in 2 cups hot water for a few minutes and then squeeze the pulp get rid of the pulp, keep the water .
2. In a deep saucepan,  heat oil and temper with mustard seeds, methi seeds, hing and curry leaves.
3. Add the veggies and saute the veggies for a few minutes .Now add the tamarind water , sambar podi and salt.
4.Bring to boil, let the veggies get fully cooked but not mushy. This takes about 5 minutes. Once the veggies are cooked, add cooked toor daal. Take care that the toor dal is mashed a little but not totally pulverised. This gives the sambar body and texture. Once the toor dal is added the sambar is kept on the stove only until everything comes together . It is customary to add a small piece of jaggery at the end.It does not lend sweetness to the sambar but elevates the taste. The sambar should not be watery or too thick like a semi-solid. It is in between like a stew. Now add fresh corainder leaves.

Sambar is ready.Enjoy it with rice, idli ,pongal...Susvaad.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Homemade Pizza with pizzazz

     My family loves pizza. I wanted to make it healthy enough for it to be made once in two weeks. Ordering from Pizza Hut or Domino's is okay once in a while but I can't help the feeling, I am not doing right by my kids feeding them fast food.
   After a lot of experimenting I came up with the idea of making pizza from scratch at home. It gives me a lot of free reign over how many toppings each pie has and the variety of the toppings. I don't have an oven that works. I got a pizza oven from Amazon called the Presto pizzazz pizza oven.I know it's a mouthful, but you will be happy when you have a mouthful of yummy pizza.

   I love this oven. It has a rotating pizza plate on a pivot with coils on the top and bottom and it makes divine pizzas in about 20-25 minutes.You can have a crispy crust or crispy cheese and toppings or both.

Here is my pizza dough recipe.

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
11/2 tsp Honey
1 pkt active dry yeast
1 cup warm water(tepid)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1.In a large bowl mix warm water, yeast and honey. Leave this mixture be for 10 minutes.
2.The yeast must double, look frothy and have a fruity smell .Now, add all the flour,salt and oil and hand mix it into a dough. Please do not worry if the dough is either loose or tough. Accordingly you can add a little more flour or water(just a little), usually this ratio turns out perfect.
3.Now, knead the dough for atleast 5 minutes.The dough must spring back when you push on its surface with your thumb, then it is ready for the first rising.
4.Now grease a bowl with olive oil on the inside, coating the inside surface. Place the dough in the bowl, the dough will double in size so take a large bowl.
5.Cover the bowl with clear plastic wrap and I usually put it in my non-working conventional oven in a draft free warm place.You can even wrap the bowl with a towel for added warmth. Leave the dough for a good hour.
6.The dough must be doubled by now or atleast risen a little. Punch it down with your fist to release air. If you want breadier dough do not punch and knead again. If you like crispycrust then knead again and let it rise for another hour.
7.After an hour your dough is done. Usually you can make 2-3 pizzas from this dough depending on the size of the pizza and crust.

Pizza sauce:
1 can Crushed tomato
1 Tsp dried oregano
1 Tsp dried basil
2 Tbsp tomato ketchup
1 Tsp chilli powder
1 Tsp E.V. olive oil
salt to taste

1.Heat olive oil and put in the dried herbs .Immediately followed by crushed tomato and rest of the ingredients. Mix thouroughly and let it thicken, while cooking the raw tomato taste away.
The sauce is ready. Let it cool.It is that simple I like to keep it simple.

Now for the toppings I use canned sliced pineapple cut into chunks, pitted sliced olives and sliced mushrooms.I love  sliced Jalapeno, broccoli, basil, bell peppers and onions as my toppings too. Hey! It's homemade, anything goes. No Ka-ching! Ka-ching! for added topping.
I buy shredded mozzarella and shredded Mexican cheese mix from Costco. I usually freeze it in freezer bags in quantities needed for one pizza at a time. It saves a lot of money.
1.Roll out portion of the dough to fit the pizza plate. Use flour on the roller and surface on which you are rolling the dough out.
2.Once on the pizza plate, smear a little oil on the rolled dough then ladle out the pizza sauce evenly on the pizza. Then comes the cheese, add both mexican blend and mozzarella cheese evenly as much as you would like. Take care not to load too much cheese as it makes the pizza heavy .
3.Sprinkle the toppings on the top.
4.Now, I think if it is a conventional oven, It would take 345 degree oven 20 minutes.
In the pizzazz pizza oven, I dial it to 20 and keep it on dual coils meaning upper and lower coils and forget it...atleast until it cooks.

Enjoy your homemade pizza .