Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Grandma's Rasam Powder

The rasam or saaru is a staple dish in our household. Considering how often I make this dish, this should have been my first post. The saaru Pudi or the rasam powder is one of the most resourceful condiment in my kitchen. Apart from making Rasam, I use the rasam powder to flavor stir-fries, gojjus and anything I can think of. I had tried adding this spice mix in pumpkin soup a long time ago and it had turned out awesome. You can find the recipe here.

Although the term Rasam and Saaru is used interchangeably, there is a world of a difference between them. The saaru is made mostly with pigeon peas or toor dal. Whereas the rasam, is made with the stock of any lentil that is cooked. The saaru or the rasam is basically a consommé type of soup that is ideally served with piping hot steamed rice and a dollop of ghee. Just pair this with a simple stir fry and a bowl of yogurt and you can be assured of a simple yet satisfying meal.

This recipe for the Saarina Pudi comes from my maternal grandmother or Ajji's Kitchen. As far as I am concerned, her saaru and sarina pudi were the best in the world. Whenever I make the Rasam Powder, I am always transported to my Ajji's tiny Kitchen. I can almost see her in a neatly draped sari and a big red Kumkum (vermilion dot) on her forehead, measuring all the ingredients. By measuring, I don't mean, measuring with cups and spoons. All her ingredients were eyeballed to exact measurements and the outcome was simply magical. Since, she eyeballed all the ingredients, she couldn't give out the recipe for the rasam powder with exact measurements. It took almost a year and at least a hundred phone calls to get the quantities right.

My ajji, considered the preparation of the Saaru pudi as a sacred event. I remember she would not make this powder on Tuesdays and Fridays. The times at dawn and dusk would be forbidden as well. Surprisingly, even I follow some of these rituals. 

The humble Rasam powder is known to have therapeutic properties. Coriander seeds, which is the main ingredient of this spice mix is believed to have antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Apart from that, the rasam powder as a whole is extremely beneficial for digestion and immune system. It helps keep the cold and cough at bay and it is known to aid sluggish metabolism. To me, the saaru is not only a delicious accompaniment to rice but also an appetizing health tonic.

In the days when ready made spice mixes line the shelves of every department store, making them at home might seem a daunting task. But once you start making these spice mixes at home, I assure you, you will not have it any other way. For nothing can be compared to the aroma and the flavor of the home made Saarina Pudi!!

Ajji's Rasam Powder Recipe:
Preparation time: 15min
Cooking time: 30min
Makes-approximately 1-1/2 Kilo

Coriander seeds- 4 cups or 480ml
Cumin seeds- 1 cup
Mustard seeds- 1/2 cup
Black Pepper corns- 1/2 cup
Fenugreek seeds- 1/2 cup
Poppy seeds- 1-1/2 tbsp
Ghee or oil- 1tbsp
Curry leaves- 1 cup, loosely packed
Good Quality asafetida- 2tsp
Kashmiri red chilies- 14 cups, loosely packed

  • Remove the stalks from the red chilies, break them into pieces and keep aside.
  • In thick bottomed pan or wok, dry roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, black pepper corns and poppy seeds separately one after another. Combine the ingredients after they are roasted.
  • Heat a tsp of ghee or oil in the same pan and add the curry leaves and fry till they turn crisp. Add the asafetida at this stage and fry for a few more seconds and take off the heat.
  • Heat the remaining ghee in the pan and add the red chilies and fry them on low heat. Do not let them burn. Fry till they are very hot to touch. Take off the heat and let it cool completely.
  • Mix all the ingredients together and grind them in a spice grinder or blender to a fine powder. Empty the ground powder to a large plate or tray and allow it to cool completely before storing it in air tight container.
  • My measuring cup measures 120ml.
  • I have used only Byadigi or Kashmiri red chilies in this recipes. But my grandmother always used a combination of guntur and Byadigi. If using guntur variety of chilies, then reduce the quantity to 12 to 13 cups.
  • Avoid roasting the ingredients together as it can lead to uneven roasting.
  • Avoid over roasting the red chilies as it can give out pungent, choking fumes. It can also change the taste of the spice mix.
  • You can consider cutting down the recipe to half if you do not make Rasam often.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Nimbekai Uppinakai- South Indian Lime Pickle

Yes. I know. I have been away for more than a month. But what can you do when family and life demands all your time and attention? During the last few weeks, there have been a number of religious togethers, Birthday parties, the kiddos Graduation from Kindergarten and some ill health as well. Both Purvi and S suffered from the seasonal flu. It was both frustrating and heart wrenching to see them suffer. So when so much is happening around you, blogging and photography invariably takes a back seat. Things have settled down since the last couple of days. So I could finally sit down to work on this post that has been in my drafts for a long time.

The nimbekai uppinakai or the South Indian Lime pickle is a staple in most South Indian houses. Since lime and lemons are available all year long, we were sure to find a big bottle of lime pickle in my Grand parents home. According to me, my grad mother made the best lemon pickle. I still remember her sitting in the tiny portico with an aluminum colander filled with bright yellow lemons. Some times she would be working alone. Sometimes, she would have a neighbor or a friend to accompany her. They would patiently cut and squeeze out the limes and gossip. Her lime pickle would taste slightly different from others because she used to add makali beru or the sarsaparilla root. It is a root that is known for it's cooling properties. It also gives an astringent taste to the pickle. Gosh how I miss her and how I miss her lime pickle.

I have always believed the process of pickling to be an art. You either get it or you don't. And I certainly didn't. At least I thought so, as my first couple of attempts were a huge disaster. Despite observing all the cleanliness and hygiene, my pickles ended up in a rotten mess. It was very discouraging and I gave up making pickles. It was almost a year back when my good friend Sailaja who is an expert in making pickles and preserves, volunteered to help me. She suggested I try making lime pickles as they are easy to make and quite forgiving. She patiently taught me every step of making the pickle and the final outcome was very encouraging. The pickle turned out finger licking  good!!! From then on, there was no looking back. I made the lime pickle two more times and I even tried my hand at making the mango pickle. All thanks to Sailaja!!!

If you have never tried your hand at pickling for the fear of ruining it, or whatever, then I suggest you give it a try. The process might seem a little too laborious and stringent but it is very gratifying at the same time. There is something about that distinctive aroma that hits your senses. Especially when you wait for at least a month of the pickle to marinate. You can be assured to be transported to heaven.

Nimbekai Uppinakai recipe:
Preparation time: 1-2hrs+marinating time
Cooking time- nil
Makes- approximately 3cups

Lime- 35-45 (quantity varies according to the size)
Iodine free Salt- 1/2 cup
Kashmiri Red chili powder- 1/4 cup
Fenugreek seeds- 1/2tsp, Roasted and ground to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle
Seasoning ingredients
Groundnut oil- 1/4 cup
Mustard seeds- 1/2tsp
Asafetida- 1/4tsp

You will also need:
A glass or a porcelain jar with a tight lid of 1ltr capacity.
Parchment paper or a clean cotton or muslin cloth
A wooden spoon
A large steel or glass mixing bowl.

  • Wash, wipe and clean the limes with a clean towel and allow it sundry for 30min.
  • Cut the lime into eight portions with a clean knife. Deseed them as much as possible. The chopped lemon should measure 3cups or 720ml.
  • Extract the juice out of the remaining limes. The juice extracted should measure 3/4the cup.
  • Layer the bottom of a clean sterilized Jar with a tea spoon of salt and top it with a layer of cut lime. Continue add the salt and lime pieces in alternating layers till all the lemon pieces are covered with salt. 
  • Add the extracted lemon juice and cover the jar with a parchment paper or a clean muslin cloth. Secure it tightly with the lid and allow it to stand for 2-3 days in a dry area. Keep shaking the container every 12hrs.
  • By the end of the third day, the salt would have dissolved and mixed well with the lime pieces.
  • Empty the jar of the preserved lime to a clean bowl. Add the red chili powder, fenugreek seed powder and mix well with a clean wooden spoon. Transfer the pickle back to the jar. Secure the mouth with the parchment paper and the lid and allow it stand for at least 3-4 weeks. By the end of the 4th week, the lime pieces should be very soft. To test if the pickle is done, spoon and piece of lime and try cutting it with your fingers. If the pickle is done, then the lime piece can be cut with minimum force. Also, the pickle should NOT taste bitter.
  • Heat the peanut oil in pan and add the mustard seeds. Once they crackle, add the asafetida and turn off the heat. Allow the seasoning to cool completely before adding it to the prepared pickle and mix well. The Pickle is now ready to be relished.

  • Make sure all the utensils, jars, ladles and knives are thoroughly washed, wiped and dried. 
  • The bottle that is used for pickling should be washed with hot water and dried in the sun before use. Alternatively, the jar can be microwaved for 30 seconds to ensure complete dryness.
  • Avoid using your hands to mix the pickle. Unless you want a spoilt pickle.
  • The quantity of limes will vary depending on the size and the juice content. You could use less than the number of limes mentioned in the ingredients.
  • The Kashmiri red chili powder gives the pickle and a rich red color without making it too spicy. If you prefer you pickle extra hot, then increase the quantity of the red chili powder by a tbsp.
  • I have used powdered sea salt. The quantity of the salt may vary if you are using rock salt.
  • Make sure the seasoning is completely cool before adding it to the pickle. Otherwise, the pickle will develop an odd odor.
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