Ghee: Clarified Butter

I just came back from Illinois where I went to spend Diwali week with my parents. This is partly because the Kiwi has been in New Zealand for the last month (this is why the photos from the last few posts have been somewhat lacking since he took his DSLR with him and left me with a point and shoot which I borrowed from friends). But I digress. I rarely am home for Diwali, so this felt like a special treat. I love Diwali at home because my Mom goes through a crazy cooking phase where she dishes up about 30 different types of desserts in small bite size pieces—perfect for grazing throughout the day (um, and night). The fun part is popping a sweet into your mouth with no knowledge of what it is or what to expect as every year she makes a handful of the standard sweets and then a heap of wildly creative ones. I love the guessing game. It reminds me of eating chocolates out of those assortments boxes without the guide. So that when you get something you don’t like you always have an excuse to try another one.

This year was no different. We had a dining table covered in sweets. At some point I was standing over our the table testing out various sweets when I popped an unknown-to-me sweet into my mouth. It was delicious so I asked my Mom how she made it. I was only barely listening as I was too busy trying to decide what to taste next, but then she said something that stopped me: “and then you deep fry it in ghee”. Um, what? I didn’t know you could deep fry anything in basically butter. Of course the sweet was delicious. How can anything deep-fried in clarified butter not taste delicious?

Well, this is something I definitely want to try. You know, maybe on a day when I have done a long run or an all day hike. But definitely something I want to try.

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Cucumber Raita

A friend recently asked me to post a simple raita recipe. My unsurprising response to that was: but did you check out the chaas recipe?! For anything you would want to use raita you can just use chaas instead. I am sure if we were having the conversation in person she would have rolled her eyes at me. But instead, I got an email response reminding me that some people may actually prefer raita to chaas. Um, who?

Of course, I am sure that is true. And given that raita is a ubiquitous item on every Indian restaurant menu, I am sure that number is larger than I imagine.

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Batata poha: Flattened rice with potatoes

I do not have any real knife skills. I don’t have the patience for cutting things finely and evenly and I only own a series of paring knives (this will be rectified soon, but I still remain slightly wary of chef’s knives and thus only plan to break out the chef’s knife when I am confronted with a butternut or watermelon). Making batata poha is all about knife skills, patience and preparation.

For this dish to work you have to cut everything very finely. This includes the onions and cilantro. But most importantly you have to chop the potatoes very small so that they cook quickly with little to no water. When we were younger, my brother was a master at cutting the potatoes very small and precisely. He would sit at the table for what seemed like forever slowly making sure all the potato pieces were even and as finely chopped as possible. My mom would always ooh and ah over his finely cut potatoes. Maybe because of this particular skill, he became a master at making the dish. Such a master in fact that it was one of the first things he cooked while trying to woo the woman who became my sister-in-law.

I, on the other hand, never really got the hang of making this dish.

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Gujarati dal: Sweet and sour lentil soup

When we were younger, we would always drown whatever we hated in something we loved—at the time for me, it was ketchup. And I have to confess, I used to drown this Gujarati dal in ketchup. I don’t mean a few teaspoons to add flavor. I mean a few cups so all you can taste is ketchup and all dal taste was masked. My dad still has a chuckle about how utterly gross that must have been…gross indeed.

I still haven’t warmed to Gujarati dal. Something about the texture and the sweet and sourness of it was never to my liking. Given that, I haven’t actually made or had it in over 20 years.  Recently, I was thinking about how much my taste has changed since I was younger (e.g. the idea of drowning anything in ketchup sounds utterly unappetizing) and how maybe I should give the Gujarati dal another shot. At the least, I know my sister-in-law actually loves it, so there was some possibility that it was tastier than I remember.

This is a dish we used to have 3-4 times a week as an accompaniment to our meal so I vaguely do recollect how to make it.  My memory– reflecting the viewpoint of a teenager–was that it was much more complicated to make than it actually is. I made this one evening after work thinking that it would take me forever. I had prepared the Kiwi for a very late dinner, but it turned out to be quick.

You usually have the dal with some sort of vegetable dish and rice and/or rotli. As it was in the middle of the week, we just had it with rice and a quick corn dish I made from leftover corn we had in our fridge. Pretty easy and surprisingly delicious. I even had the dal the next day for lunch as a thick soup with some crusty bread!

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Rotlis: Staple Indian Bread

Almost two months ago, my mom had surgery on her back. I was totally freaked out about it. I kept having these nightmares of having to jump on a plane to fly for 26 hours in case something went wrong.

Given the time difference, the surgery was starting in the evening in South Africa and ending in the middle of the night. And I did not really know what to do with myself while the surgery was happening. My father had promised to call once the surgery was done. I couldn’t fall asleep but I didn’t have the attention span to read or watch TV. In that situation, I like to cook something that I find calming and takes a lot of time to make: usually that means making rotlis or a fruit pie. That night in honor of my mom who I don’t think has ever even had an American-style fruit pie, I made rotlis—65 of them. We stacked them in the freezer. They lasted us a month by which point my mom had fully recovered, of course.

Making rotlis actually does require some practice. I grew up making them for our nightly dinners. They are basically at every Gujarati meal. Like any angsty teenager I HATED making them. But my brother who didn’t have to make them growing up now is totally jealous that I can make them and he can’t. Ha!

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Spinach and yellow lentils

I have always loved spinach and broccoli. Ever since I was young, I remember not understanding why all of the kids in my small on-the-cusp-of-rural town in central Illinois hated spinach and broccoli. Then I spent the night at my friend’s house, whose mom kindly made me boiled spinach and broccoli in recognition of my love of the two. I remember thinking oh, no, sorry, I don’t like THAT. So imagine the irony when early in my relationship with the Kiwi he told me he wasn’t a fan of spinach. I knew I could make him like it after all he hadn’t had my mom’s spicy spinach with yellow lentils dish. Of course I didn’t want to freak him out so early in the relationship so I wisely kept my mouth shut and nodded the whole time waiting until the moment when I could launch my world-turning spinach dish at him. Well, folks the time has come. In the interest of full disclosure, he has now accepted spinach blended into a spicy tomato sauce we make for pasta. So his aversion is no longer as strong as it was earlier on, but I wasn’t sure if I could make a pure spinach based dish that he would like.

Ingredients

Making this is relatively straightforward and there are a ton of variations to the recipe. You can add tomatoes, onions and garlic, use cumin instead of mustard seeds. You could even use a different lentil but I prefer the moong dal and if you have made khichiri recently you probably already have moong dal available. The possibilities are endless. When we were younger we used to have it with chopped frozen spinach. I think that might be because in pre-foodie America it was hard to find fresh spinach. But nowadays my mom makes it with fresh spinach.

The only possible hiccup is the asafetida. When they say a small pinch, they mean a very very small pinch. The first time I ever used asafetida in a dish, my mom actually told me the same thing–a smaller pinch than you can imagine. I, of course, put in a little bit more and it completely overpowered the dish and not in a good way. So, anyway, small pinch of asafetida.

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Cabbage Dhebras: One of the many Indian flatbreads

Whenever I go home, my mom always makes dhebras. Usually more than once over a one week span. I LOVE them. They are portable, freezable, and delicious. And you can use heaps of different vegetables in them (cabbage, zucchini, fenugreek leaves, spinach, squash). She always makes an extra stack for me to take with me so I can have for the first weeks I am back in Joburg. YUM. But once I finish my stash I find myself wishing I had more. To me that meant finally learning how to make them.

Dhebras are basically a flatbread with veggies and spices. I was always intimidated by them, but turns out they aren’t as hard to make as I had thought.

I prefer dhebras made with cabbage. So I bought a half a head of cabbage (I didn’t want to commit to using a whole head of cabbage just in case they turned out too hard to make) and got down to it. Trying to save my mom from another conversation about recipes I thought I would look to the handy internet to find a recipe. Everything I found only dealt with fenugreek dhebras. I found this helpful video on fenugreek dhebras. But the entire time I kept grabbing the Kiwi away from watching some Rugby World Cup match to point out how my mom actually does it differently. So I gave up and called my mom.

The dough is sticky and can be hard to handle, but it is totally worth it in order to make the dhebras less bready and more veggie-y. But if you don’t feel like constantly having to wash dough off your hands you can just add more flour to make it less sticky.

My mom rolls them out between two sheets of plastic. She re-uses the plastic bags you put your produce in at the grocery store, but I just use two sheets of saranwrap. Rolling them isn’t as hard as I thought, but you do have to be patient (or an expert at rolling out dough). To be honest, I am neither one of those things. The dhebras kept sticking to the saran wrap and I felt a little like shooting myself, but just keep on it and eventually you will get the hang of it. Just so you know, I went through 3 things of saran wrap before I finally got the hang of it.

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