Bitter Gourd - Menaskai

In the South Kanara of my memories, time moves at an unhurried pace. The air is warm and heavy with humidity. The rice fields are green and lush, the earth warm and fertile. Conjures up images of non-confrontational idlis, mellow tove (dal) and gentle anna-mosuru (yoghurt-rice).

Menaskai is a whole ‘nother story! Tart and sweet, it will flirt with your palate! Menaskai is like the saucy belle that drives everyone to distraction. How could we resist!

The list of ingredients in menaskai is living proof of South Kanara’s epic love affair with coconut and spices. Even a vegetable as formidable as bitter gourd will be paired with some ground spices and simmered with fresh grated coconut. Tamarind and jaggery play fairy godmother. Give them some alone time to get to know each other and the end result will be delightful!

Truly, it’s a happy marriage. Robust coconut turns into a smooth, comforting companion. Jaggery adds its mellow sweetness, tamarind adds a piquant tartness and the spices make everything interesting. Most surprising of all, instead of being overwhelmingly bitter, the taste of the bitter gourd adds a spunky bite to the menaskai… kinda like Cindy Crawford who made a beauty spot out of a wart!

This is also my entry for January’s JFI hosted by Ashwini of Food for Thought. I have often called my parents and asked for a recipe for something sweet, something wholesome, something festive, something interesting and so on and coconut invariably shows up on the list of ingredients! Doubting Thomas that I am, I have asked, ”What makes it fluffy? What keeps it from sticking? What makes it light and airy?” My consultants were unwavering. Fortunately, I come from a long line of South Kanara cooks whose faith in coconut is quite unshakeable!

Recipe resources:
I came across a couple recipes for hagalkai (kannada word for bitter gourd) gojju. Find them here and here. I used a recipe provided by my ajji (grandmother) - Many thanks ajji, I know you're reading this :-)

Heres what I did:
- Dry roasted 1 tablespoon sesame seeds. In a spot of oil, roasted 2 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin and a red chili. Ground it all with about a third cup fresh grated coconut. Added a tsp of tamarind concentrate or pea sized ball of tamarind soaked in warm water. Got rid of the ridges on the gourd and cut it into 1/2 inch pieces. Cooked the bitter gourd in a tsp of oil with salt and jaggery. Added the ground coconut-and-spice paste and bring to a boil. Simmered briefly (the menaskai, not me!). The only modification I made was to temper the menaskai with mustard seeds and curry leaves.

There you have it!

1. Good friend and super-good cook V wrote and mentioned that she'd made menaskai with pineapple (gasp!) How festive - Thank You for sharing!
2. Do not miss the JFI Coconut round up! Its only a click away :-D


Seasonal Cheer!

Hopefully y'all have done your shopping and set cookies out for Santa :-) Sorry about scaring you with the picture of the 'Ex knife holder' Rated as one of the top gifts for 'her', this one may help get rid of residual resentment! Good lord! Truly a double edged gift!!

My Holiday Season has been delightful - I have much to be grateful for. Good wishes and Happy Holidays!


More Biscotti

With the Holiday Season in full swing, I am torn between avoiding the craziness of the malls and completely giving in to temptation! No prizes for guessing which choice I picked!!

Like a predator sniffing out prey in the jungles of the Kalahari, my bargain-hunting skills have been honed through years of dedicated window-shopping in grad school! I always tell myself that shopping counts as physical activity because I burn calories as I meander through the aisles!

The height of shopping frenzy, interestingly enough, coincides with fever pitch on the football field. Notice how deftly these two seemingly conflicting activities - football and christmas shopping, can be reconciled. I almost fell off the treadmill laughing as I watched an ad for diamond jewellery come on in the middle of the Sunday night game. Nice try!

Baking highlight of this weekend was cinnamon sugar biscotti.

Lessons learned:
1. Chad Pennington is hot. Especially ummm all the time.
2. Its okay to make biscotti with half whole wheat and half regular flour.
3. The rookies (Reggie Bush and Vince Young) are smokin' hot!
4. Do not forget the egg wash - sugar crystals do not stay put without the wash :-( Will end up vaccumming front of shirt everytime you eat biscotti. (sigh) The things I do to avoid laundry.

Of scones and such

Tis the season for scones and such!

I like scones - gently sweet and hearty, they are somehow comforting. My mentor in graduate school would often bring currant scones to our our lab meeting. They were fresh from a local bakery and enormous, simply delightful! Further back in time (ack!!), we came upon scones in Enid Blyton's books. Enid Blyton's cast of characters would come home from school and snack on 'scones with jam'. It seemed such an exotic treat - I came home from school on my brown pinafore and white shirt and munched on chivda and idlis!

Scones are not hard to make. Really the only requirement is that the butter be chilled. I made Chocolate Orange Scones and they turned out pretty good, though I say so myself! As always, I used some combination of whole wheat and all purpose flour. Instead of chocolate chips, I added chunks of dark chocolate. I made smaller sized scones (portion control, so now I can eat three at a go!!). Sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on top and garnished with orange rind. And there you go!

Recipe Resource:
1. Original scone recipe here
2. Some of the best scones on the web here!
- Nic of Baking Sheet has a plethora of great recipes
- Blogging friend Asha shares her scones here


Souped up!

Its snowing, gentle reader, and we're expecting three to five inches of lake effect snow tonight. At work, a couple days ago, a colleague expressed surprise that it had stopped snowing after a only light dusting. Hmmm, I thought to myself... readjusting my expectations for this winter... it looks like folks here are surprised when it stops snowing!!

On the bright side, its perfect weather for soup. So I rubbed my hands with glee at the Super Souper Challenge hosted by Tami of Running with Tweezers! I have been experimenting with vegetarian soups that have a reasonable amount of protein. And so here are the results!

The runner-up is Vegetarian Sausage with Navy Beans and Spinach Soup (see picture above). Here is what I did:
- Sliced sausage links and browned them in olive oil.
- Sauteed bay leaves, garlic and onion in olive oil. Added carrots, cauliflower and spinach. I suspect that bell pepper (capsicum) will also work well. Added browned links to veggies.
- Added about 2 cups cooked navy beans.
- Crushed caraway seeds, dried sage and black pepper and chucked it into the mixture.
- I let them simmer and get to know each other for 20 minutes.
- At this point, I could have thickened the soup with some stock / cream / flour but I didn't mess with it. To my palate, it needed a little more heat and so I chucked in a green chili.

The soup is gentle and hearty. To be honest, I'm not all that impressed with the veggie sausage links. I loved the bean and spinach combination. Also the caraway seeds and sage went a long way in adding flavor.

My number one favorite is Vegetarian Chili! Its ridiculously easy to make. The results are consistent and amazing, considering how little effort is called for.

Heres what I did:
- Sauteed garlic and onion in olive oil.
- Added two veggie burgers. I had Morningstar Farms Tomato Basil Pizza burgers handy so thats what I used.
- When the burgers brown a little, add a can of diced tomatoes (or equivalent fresh chopped tomatoes) and beans of your choice. I had red kidneys begging to be used (!)
- Thats pretty much all you need to do. You can stir, add some crushed red pepper to spice it up a little. But really the chili cooks itself with very little tinkering.

The chili is hearty and filling. Corn Bread would be an appropriate consort for this chili. I served my chili with multi-grain bread and it made for a pretty good lunch.

Recipe Resources:
1. Joy of Cooking: All About Soups and Stews is the collaborative opus resulting from the combined talents of three generations of cooks/co-authors. This book was the first book I read about making soups, the rest were just recipes. True to the teaching tradition of the 'Joy' series, this book is informative in a completely non-snobbish way. Pictures and text live up to the content. The last time I read this book, I was in the middle of a barley spree! The mushroom barley soup turned out quite well.

2. Currently in love with the 'Book of Soups' by the Culinary Institute of America. Great value for money, this book includes techniques, specifics and very interesting sides. (On a tangent) I am intrigued by how our (collective) palates have expanded to include ethnic soups.

Don't miss the Super Souper Challenge round-up at Running with Tweezers!


Recent-ish Cookbooks

Last evening was a perfect winter night. There was a light dusting of snow and the air was crisp and still. I needed to pick up a book from the library and so I bundled up and headed downtown. I drove and parked by St. Mary's Church downtown. It is a fabulous location. I got out of my little car, which nestled between the massive (Romanesque Revival, to be precise) church and Washington Square Park. Moonlight streamed serenely as I looked at the charming little waterwheel fountain in the church grounds. To the north, in dramatic contrast to the august ambience of St Mary's you will find our dapper whipper-snapper, the Bausch and Lomb building. I love how Rochester has all these different styles of architecture living next to each other!

I stepped into the cozy warmth of the library and found my book. I was about to head out when 'Once upon a Tart' caught my eye. I remembered coming across the book almost a year ago. I had enjoyed it very much. It is stylish and whats more, the recipes work beautifully! The writing is fun too, no frills, kinda masculine and yet with loving attention to detail!

One of my favorites is the apple batter cake. It turned out flavorful and satisfying, in a rustic, charming sort of way. Clearly Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau love what they do and they're very good at it.

Also came upon Gale Gand's 'Short and Sweet'. Wouldn't this be great theme for a blogging event! The book is well-laid out and interestingly enough, organized by the time it takes to make/bake the recipes. Its a pretty eclectic collection and includes a section about baking with kids :-) My favorite recipe from this one is passionfruit mousse. Turned out very good - tart, luscious and exotic!


Schezuan Noodles

So I've been eating pretty healthy for a while now - time for all that to change! I knew it couldn't last! This week I'm craving good old-fashioned grease and spices-that-make-your-eyes-water - sounds suspiciously like Indian Chinese no?!

Like Rusty from a Ruskin Bond novel, I'm a sucker for street food. It has always always held some mysterious allure! My first close-encounter with Indian Chinese food was at Ruia Naka. But it wasn't until we ate Chinese food in Parel that we experienced gastronomic nirvana. Our palates and certainly our insides would never be the same again!

Much to my delight, I came across Ching's Recipe Secret Sauce at my local Indian store. Glory be! I dipped into its fiery hot insides quivered, alternating horror and delight! In an attempt to make it semi-healthy, I chucked in some veggies and soba noodles. The results are nothing like the street vendors' (no suprises there!) but still satisfyingly spicy.

Gingerbread Houses!

The George Eastman house has a delightful exhibit called 'Sweet Creations: Gingerbread House Display'. In keeping with the festive theme, the exhibit runs November 15th - December 14th. Girl Scout Troops, community groups, families and bakers showcase their skills and the results are delicious!

Their creativity is boundless. I'm quite sure I saw Cinderella and her fairy Godmother in marzipan. Don't let me forget the three little pigs and the big, bad wolf. There were no less than two gingerbread creations depicting the Bills at a game!

The houses are sold through a silent auction...judging by the cute little scribbles and scrawls on the clipboards, it looks like quite a few piggy banks were busted!

Don't miss the fabulous write-up with pictures of the Gingerbread House display by Rochester area foodie Tracy. Thank you for letting me add you :-)

Would like to share this with Habeas Brulee for Sugar High Friday # 26: Sugar Art