Chak Hao Amubi| Manipuri Black Rice Pudding (Kheer)

The recipe I am going to share with you today comes from Manipur, an Indian region I have always been fascinated by. Apart from its beautiful valleys and lush forests, sprawling grasslands and caves, the state has a rich cultural heritage too. Manipur is also home to black rice, Chak Hao in the local language, an interesting ingredient I have just begun experimenting with. I chose to use it to prepare Chak Hao Amubi, or a Manipuri Black Rice Pudding (Kheer), and was absolutely thrilled with the way it turned out.

The cuisine of Manipur is very simple, the dishes making use of minimal ingredients. The cuisine is largely non-vegetarian, with quite a few vegetarian dishes on offer too. A variety of local vegetables and greens are used in Manipuri cooking, mostly grown organically. The food is spiced up with local chillies, flavoured with any of the several aromatic herbs that grow in abundance here. The traditional Chak Hao Amubi is reflective of the state’s culinary philosophies too – it is made with minimal ingredients, allowing the nutty flavour of the black rice to shine through. I have made the kheer with a few little variations of my own, though, to suit my family’s taste buds.

Like I was saying earlier, the Black Rice Pudding turned out absolutely brilliant. The black rice, with its unique flavour profile, worked beautifully with the milk and sugar in the pudding. A much healthier alternative to the regular white rice, it lent the pudding a pretty, pretty purple hue too. In terms of both looks and taste, this Black Rice Kheer was a huge hit with everyone at home!

Here’s how I made the Chak Hao Amubi or Black Rice Pudding.

Ingredients (serves 4-5):

  1. 1/4 cup black rice
  2. 1 litre full-fat milk (+ a little extra if needed)
  3. 1/2 cup sugar or as per taste
  4. 2-3 pinches cardamom powder (optional)
  5. About 1 tablespoon ghee (optional)
  6. 5-6 cashewnuts (optional)
  7. 5-6 almonds (optional)
  8. Dried rose petals as needed for garnishing (optional)

Method:

1. Wash the black rice once in running water. Drain out the excess water. Add in just enough fresh water to cover it, and let it soak for 8-10 hours or overnight.

2. Once the black rice is done soaking, drain out the excess water from it. Keep ready.

3. Take 1 litre of full-fat milk in a heavy-bottomed pan, and place on high heat. Let the milk come to a boil.

4. Lower the flame to low-medium. Add the soaked and drained black rice to the milk in the pan. Mix well.

5. Cook on low-medium heat till the rice is cooked through, 25-30 minutes. You will need to stir intermittently, to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan, and scrape down the cream that forms on the sides of the pan.

6. Now, add sugar to the pan. Mix well. Simmer the Black Rice Pudding for a couple of minutes more. Switch off gas.

7. Mix in the cardamom powder to the pudding, after the flame has been switched off.

8. Chop the cashewnuts and almonds into slivers. Heat the ghee in another pan. Reduce flame and add the cashewnut and almond slivers. Allow them to brown slightly, ensuring that they do not burn. Switch off the gas, and add the ghee, cashewnuts and almonds to the Black Rice Pudding. Mix well.

9. Serve the Black Rice Kheer hot, at room temperature or chilled, garnished with dried rose petals.

Notes:

1. Black rice is quite tough, and typically needs a soaking time of 8-10 hours. However, there are some versions that need to soak for just 2-3 hours or so. Ensure that you read the package instructions carefully, to check on the exact cooking proceedure for the black rice you are using. The one I got, from our recent travel to Thailand, needed to soak overnight.

2. Use good-quality full-fat milk, for best results. Here, I have used Nandini Full-Cream milk.

3. Adjust the quantity of sugar you use, depending upon personal taste preferences.

4. To check doneness of the rice, try tasting a couple of the grains – they will still be a bit hard on the outside, but will be soft and cooked on the inside. Like I said earlier, it takes around 25-30 minutes for the black rice to cook in the milk.

5. If you feel the kheer is getting too thick but the rice is not yet cooked, you can add in some more boiled milk. In this case, you will need to re-adjust the quantity of sugar you need.

6. The original Chak Hao Amubi or Black Rice Kheer in Manipur is a very simple affair, made with just milk, black rice and sugar (often, with jaggery or honey as the sweetener). Occasionally, a couple of pinches of cardamom powder are used to liven it up. Using the cardamom is purely optional – I would suggest using it, though, for it adds a lovely touch to the kheer.

7. I have used ghee-roasted cashewnuts and almonds in the Chak Hao Amubi, as well as dried rose petals, to make it more inviting. Using these ingredients is purely optional.

8. I have used only 1/4 cup of rice here, as I wanted the kheer to be runny. You can adjust the quantity of black rice and milk (and sugar, of course), depending upon how thick you want the kheer to be.

9. Check out this old post of mine for another lovely recipe using black rice, and some interesting facts about this very healthy ingredient.

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This recipe is for the Shhhh Cooking Secretly Challenge that I am part of. Every month, the participants of the group cook dishes from a particular part of India, using two secret ingredients assigned to them. This month, all of us over are cooking dishes from the Indian state of Manipur.

I was paired with Bhawana of Code2Cook for this month, who assigned to me the two secret ingredients of black rice and sugar. I decided to make Manipur’s Chak Hao Amubi using these two ingredients. Check out the amazing Vegan Sana Thongba or Vegan Manipuri Paneer Curry that Bhawana made using the two ingredients I gave her – cumin and milk!

I’m also sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #261. The co-hosts this week are Antonia @ Zoale.com and Julianna @ Foodie on Board.

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Pori Upma| Puffed Rice Upma

Puffed rice, also called Pori or Murmura, is quite a healthy snack in itself. A cup of puffed rice contains very few calories, but has the potential to fill you up. Considering this, puffed rice is great for inclusion in a diet program, even though it doesn’t provide one with a significant amount of vitamins or other nutrients. Today, I present to you the recipe for Pori Upma, a healthy and delicious snack made using puffed rice.

Pori Upma or Puffed Rice Upma is good for a quick breakfast, or for those in-between-meals hunger pangs. There are several different ways to prepare this upma – different families make it with variations of their own. The recipe I present here is the way we typically prepare it in our family.

Here you go!

Ingredients (serves 2):

  1. 3 heaped cups raw puffed rice (pori or murmura)
  2. 1 medium-sized onion
  3. A 1-inch piece of ginger
  4. 1 sprig of curry leaves
  5. 3-4 green chillies
  6. 1/2 tablespoon oil
  7. 1 tablespoon raw peanuts
  8. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  9. 2 pinches of asafoetida
  10. 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  11. Salt to taste
  12. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  13. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
  14. Juice of 1/2 lemon or to taste
  15. 1 tablespoon fresh grated coconut

Method:

1. Firstly, we will prep the vegetables we need to make the Pori Upma. Peel the onion and chop it finely. Remove the stems from the green chillies and slit them length-wise. Peel the ginger and chop it very finely. Keep the prepped veggies aside.

2. Dry roast the raw peanuts in a pan, on medium flame, till they get crisp. Ensure that they do not burn. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool down completely.

3. Heat oil in the same pan. Add in the mustard, and allow it to sputter. Now, add in the curry leaves, cumin seeds, the dry-roasted peanuts, and asafoetida. Let them stay in for a couple of seconds.

3. Add the chopped onion and ginger to the pan, along with the slit green chillies. Saute on medium flame till the onion begins to turn brownish.

4. Meanwhile, place the puffed rice in a colander and run some cold water thoroughly over it, for just a couple of seconds. Make sure all the puffed rice gets wet. Drain out the excess water, and add the soaked puffed rice to the pan as soon as the onion gets brown.

5. Keeping the flame on medium high, add salt and turmeric powder to the pan. Mix well. Cook on medium flame for about a minute. Switch off gas.

6. Mix in finely chopped coriander, fresh grated coconut and lemon juice to the Pori Upma. Serve hot.

Notes:

1. There is no need to roast the puffed rice before using it in making this upma. You can use it raw.

2. Dry roasting the peanuts before using them in the upma keeps them crisp and tasty. You may skip the dry roasting part if you want to.

3. Be careful while adding the salt, as the Puffed Rice Upma does not withstand salt too well.

4. Make sure you don’t let the soaked puffed rice sit around for too long. Add it to the pan as soon as the onions brown, which is what will give you the perfect, non-mushy, delicious Pori Upma.

5. Normally, I don’t add red chilli powder to the Pori Upma, using only green chillies to spice it up. You can add a dash of red chilli powder if you want to, or up the number of green chillies you use.

6. I have used peanuts and fresh grated coconut to liven up this dish. Both of these ingredients are believed to be high in fat content, but I have used them in very little quantities. I believe in eating everything in moderation, fats included. If you want to, you can skip these two ingredients.

7. Finely chopped cucumber, pomegranate arils, chopped tomatoes, grated carrot and a dash of sugar are some other things you can add to this Pori Upma, to make it more delicious.

8. Do not overcook this Puffed Rice Upma, for best results. Also, it tastes best when served hot.

9. If you want the Pori Upma crunchy, you can add in the puffed rice as is, without washing it. I like it both ways.

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Foodie Monday Blog Hop
This recipe is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for this week is #LowCalorieFood, suggested by Sujata Roy of Batter Up With Sujata.

I’m sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #260. The co-hosts this week are Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

Did you like the recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

Cheeselings Bhel| Cheeselings Chaat

We, as a family, don’t buy biscuits all that often. Occasionally, though, when we feel like indulging, we pick up a packet of biscuits while grocery shopping, to nibble through a couple at a time. Parle Monaco Cheeselings are one of our favourites – those tiny puffed-up biscuits with a cheesy flavour to them. While we are at it, Cheeselings Chaat or Cheeselings Bhel is one of our favourite things to make with these little biscuits.

Using Cheeselings in bhel gives it a unique twist, and makes it taste absolutely fabulous. Do try out this crispy, crunchy, delicious Cheeselings Bhel, and I’m sure you will fall in love with it, too.

Let us now check out the recipe for Cheeselings Chaat aka Cheeselings Bhel.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  1. 3 big fistfuls of Parle Monaco Cheeselings
  2. 2 big fistfuls of roasted puffed rice or murmura
  3. 1 big handful of fine sev aka omapudi
  4. 2 tablespoons roasted or masala peanuts
  5. 1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
  6. 1 small carrot, peeled and finely grated
  7. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
  8. 2 pinches of roasted cumin (jeera) powder
  9. 2 pinches of black salt
  10. 2-3 tablespoons of spicy green chutney or as needed
  11. 3-4 tablespoons of sweet and sour tamarind chutney or as needed

Method:

1. Take all the above ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

2. Mix well.

3. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  1. You may use any other ingredients of your choice in the bhel too, such as pomegranate arils, boiled and cubed potatoes, papdi, finely chopped cucumber and the likes. I have kept Monaco Cheeselings as the star ingredient here, and have limited the number of other ingredients so that their flavour comes through beautifully.
  2. Click here to find the recipe I use to make the spicy green chutney.
  3. Click here to find the recipe I use to make the sweet and sour tamarind chutney.
  4. I have used puffed rice that has been roasted lightly, with a little salt and turmeric powder. You may use plain puffed rice instead, too.
  5. To make roasted cumin powder, dry roast some cumin in a pan till it emits a lovely fragrance. Ensure that the cumin does not burn. When it cools down fully, grind to a fine powder in a mixer, and store in a clean, dry, air-tight jar. Use this roasted cumin powder as required.
  6. Adjust the quantities of all the above ingredients as per personal taste preferences.
  7. I have used store-bought fine sev here (Garden Nylon Sev). You can make your own at home, too. Using fine sev gives the best results here, as opposed to thicker varieties.
  8. I always make bhel as per rough measurements, by the fistfuls. I don’t have exact cup measurements for certain ingredients here, but I think you will get the gist – use Cheeselings in the highest quantity, followed by roasted murmura, followed by sev.

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This post is for the Healthy Wellthy Cuisines group that I am part of. The members of this group cook for a particular theme every fortnight. This fortnight, all of us are cooking different types of dishes using biscuits.

Check out the interesting recipes using biscuits that the other group members have come up with:

No-Bake Swiss Roll by Jayashree| Oreo Energy Bites by Sasmita| Pizza Crackers by Swaty| Chocolate Nutella Tart by Vanitha| Chocolate Biscuit Cake by Poonam| No-Oven Biscuit Cake by Geetanjali| Marie Biscuit Cake by Rosy| Carrot Paneer Mousse by Veena| Biscuit Bhelpuri by Shalu| Easy Fruit Trifle by Mayuri

I’m sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #260. The co-hosts this week are Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

7 Tips For Building An Engaged E-Mail List

In the increasingly digital world of today’s times, the importance of e-mail marketing in building a brand cannot be emphasised enough, irrespective of whether your business is small-, medium- or large-sized. However, e-mail marketing can help your business only when used in the right way. Sending out the right message, in the right format, at the right time is critical, just as it is to reach out to the right audience. This is where the importance of having an engaged e-mail list comes in.

Firing e-mails to anyone and everyone will just not work – at least not in the long run! If you want to drive success for your business organisation through an e-mail campaign, you must figure out who your ‘engaged audience’ is, i.e. the subscribers who really want to receive e-mails from you, who are really interested in hearing from you. There is no shortcut around this. You must work towards building an engaged e-mail list, and work on sustaining one. In time, this will definitely prove to be one of the most invaluable assets your business can possess.

The following infographic by Campaign Monitor, a leading provider of e-mail marketing services based in the USA, offers you 7 important tips on how to go about building and maintaining a list of engaged e-mail subscribers. Remember – there are no shortcuts, hacks or tricks in there!

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I present to you this infographic, in collaboration with Campaign Monitor, in the hope that these tips will be of value to you.

Strawberry & Grape Salad

Strawberries are in season right now. They are all over Bangalore at the moment, packed in big and little boxes. More often than not, you get the small strawberries here, which tend to be slightly sour and not all that juicy. Once in a while, though, you come across big, fat strawberries from Mahabaleshwar, which are supremely juicy and sweet, with no sourness to them. And when you come across the latter, you grab them by the cartload (OK, I am exaggerating! You buy them by the boxfuls!). This Strawberry & Grape Salad was an attempt at using up some of those lovely fruits – after all, just how many of them can you eat by themselves? – before they faded away into oblivion.

Now, this Strawberry & Grape Salad isn’t the healthiest of salads ever, I’ll tell you that. It has store-bought preserved red paprika and cheese in there, albeit in very little quantities. This surely is a delicious salad, though, I’ll tell you that too, the ingredients blending together to create layers of flavours and textures. I used the ingredients I had on hand at the moment, to make this salad, but you have the option of substituting them with healthier alternatives.

Let’s now see how I made the Strawberry & Grape Salad, shall we?

Ingredients (serves 1-2):

  1. 4-5 big strawberries
  2. A handful of grapes
  3. 1 cube of cheese
  4. 5-6 almonds
  5. Salt to taste
  6. Slices of red paprika in vinegar, as needed + 1 teaspoon of the vinegar
  7. A drizzle of honey
  8. A few fresh leaves of basil

Method:

  1. Remove the tops from the strawberries, and chop them into bite-sized pieces. Place them in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the grapes to the mixing bowl.
  3. Chop the cube of cheese into bite-sized pieces, and add to the mixing bowl.
  4. Sliver the almonds and add them to the mixing bowl too.
  5. Add in salt to taste, the red paprika slices, honey and vinegar from the red paprika as needed.
  6. Roughly tear the basil leaves and add to the bowl.
  7. Mix everything together well. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  1. Use big, ripe, sweet and juicy strawberries, for best results.
  2. Use only seedless grapes to make this salad. I have used purple grapes here, but you can use any variety that you prefer.
  3. I have used a cube of Amul processed cheese to add flavour to the salad. You can substitute this with any other type of organic/hand-made/zero-chemical cheese to make the salad healthier.
  4. To add a hint of spiciness to the salad, I have used store-bought red paprika, preserved in vinegar. You can use very finely chopped green chillies, in place of the paprika, too.
  5. Lemon juice can be used in place of the vinegar I have used in this salad.
  6. You can add in any other fruits of your choice to the salad too.

Did you like the recipe for this Strawberry & Grape Salad? Do tell me, in your comments!

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I’m sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #260. The co-hosts this week are Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

Vegetarian Khao Suey| How To Make Burmese Veg Khow Suey

Khao Suey is one of my most favourite things ever. It is the dish I am, almost always, the most drawn to, whenever I visit a Pan-Asian restaurant.

A one-bowl hearty meal in itself, the Khao Suey or Khow Suey hails from Burma (Myanmar). The typical Khao Suey is non-vegetarian, with pieces of cooked chicken added to a flavourful curried coconut milk broth, served with egg noodles. However, with time, as the Khao Suey crossed the boundaries of Burma and became a hot favourite across several countries, vegetarian versions began to emerge. Today, vegetarian Khao Suey is commonly available in high-end restaurants, at least here in Bangalore.

Today, I present to you my version of vegetarian Khao Suey, made using ingredients that are easily available in India. It might not be the most authentic of recipes, as they go, but I can say it tastes quite close to the Khao Suey we have gobbled up in several restaurants and loved. This version tastes equally delicious, and is not too tough to whip up either.

Let us now check out how to make Burmese Veg Khow Suey.

Ingredients (serves 4):

Veggies and paneer:

  1. 4-5 cloves of garlic
  2. 1 small carrot
  3. 1/2 of a small zucchini
  4. 3 large pieces of babycorn
  5. 2 large mushrooms
  6. 3-4 beans
  7. 1/2 of a small capsicum
  8. 2 tablespoons shelled green peas
  9. 2 medium-sized florets of broccoli
  10. A small piece of cottage cheese aka paneer

To grind:

  1. A 1-inch piece of ginger
  2. 4-5 cloves of garlic
  3. 1 small onion
  4. 1 tablespoon fresh coriander stems
  5. 3 dry red chillies
  6. 2 big kaffir lime leaves
  7. A handful of lemongrass leaves
  8. 1 teaspoon sambar powder
  9. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  10. 1-1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  11. 1-1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

Other ingredients:

  1. 400 ml coconut cream
  2. 200 grams noodles
  3. 1 tablespoon + 1 tablespoon of oil
  4. Salt to taste
  5. 2 tablespoons jaggery powder or to taste
  6. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

For garnishing:

  1. 1 medium-sized onion
  2. 4 tablespoons peanuts
  3. A little oil, for deep frying
  4. 1 lemon
  5. 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

Method:

We will first prepare the spice paste that will go into the Khao Suey.

  1. Get all the ingredients under the ‘To Grind’ list together.
  2. Peel the ginger, garlic and onion. Chop the ginger and onion into large-ish pieces.
  3. Transfer all the ingredients to a small mixer jar. Add a little water, and grind to a coarse paste. Keep aside.

Next, we will prep the veggies and paneer that will go into the Khao Suey.

  1. Peel the garlic and chop finely.
  2. Peel the carrot and chop into small pieces.
  3. Chop zucchini into small pieces. There is no need to peel the zucchini.
  4. Chop the babycorn into thin rounds.
  5. Chop the paneer, mushrooms and broccoli into small pieces.
  6. Remove strings from the beans. Chop into small pieces.

Let us now boil the noodles and keep them ready.

  1. Take the noodles in a pan. Add in just enough water to cover the noodles.
  2. Add in some salt and 1 tablespoon oil.
  3. Set the pan on high heat. Let the noodles cook till they are al dente (cooked through, but not mushy).
  4. At this stage, pour the noodles into a colander. Let the excess water drain out. Run some cold tap water over the noodles. Keep aside.

Now, we will prepare the broth for the Khao Suey.

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan. Add in the finely chopped garlic and saute for a minute.
  2. Now, add in all the veggies that we prepped earlier (carrot, zucchini, beans, broccoli, babycorn, mushroom, capsicum) and the shelled green peas. Add salt to taste. Saute the veggies till they are cooked, but still retain a bit of a crunch.
  3. Add the spice paste we prepared earlier, to the pan. Mix well, and cook for a couple of seconds.
  4. Turn the flame to medium. To the pan, add in the coconut cream, jaggery powder and turmeric. Add in the paneer cubes. Mix well, but gently, ensuring that the paneer cubes don’t break. Taste and adjust salt if needed.
  5. Cook on medium flame till the coconut milk comes to a boil. Switch off gas. If the raw smell of the spice paste hasn’t gone yet, you can simmer the broth for a minute or so.

Now, we will make preparations to serve the Khao Suey.

  1. Cut the lemon into wedges. Keep ready.
  2. Heat a little oil for deep frying in a pan.
  3. Chop the onion (for the garnish) into thin slices, and fry them in the hot oil till crisp and brown. Ensure that they do not burn. Transfer to a plate and keep aside.
  4. In the same oil, fry the peanuts till crisp and brown. Ensure that they do not burn. Transfer to a plate and keep aside.

Now, we are ready to serve the Khao Suey!

  1. Drop an equal amount of the cooked noodles into 4 serving bowls.
  2. Ladle a generous amount of the hot broth into each serving bowl.
  3. Garnish each bowl with some finely chopped coriander, fried onions and peanuts, and a couple of wedges of lemon. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  1. You can use any type of noodles you prefer, to make this Vegetarian Khao Suey. Here, I have used a ready-to-use packet of whole wheat noodles.
  2. I have used paneer here, which you can substitute with tofu.
  3. You can use any vegetables of your choice to make the Khao Suey. Here I have used the vegetables I had on hand at the moment. Ensure that you cut the vegetables and paneer into small pieces for the Khao Suey – it tastes best that way.
  4. Make sure you don’t overcook the vegetables or the noodles, for best results.
  5. Adjust the quantity of water you use, depending upon how thick you would like the Khao Suey to be.
  6. Adjust the quantity of jaggery powder and salt as per personal taste preferences. Also, sugar can be used in place of the jaggery powder – I prefer the latter.
  7. I have used home-made sambar powder to make the curried coconut broth for the Khao Suey. You can use garam masala instead, too, but I prefer sambar powder.
  8. Adjust the quantity of dry red chillies you use, depending upon personal taste preferences. I have used 2 Bydagi chillies and 1 Salem Gundu chilli here, and the spiciness was just right for us.
  9. I have used a 400 ml can of Real Thai Coconut Cream to make the Khao Suey. Coconut cream is quite thick, so I have used about 1 cup of water to make the broth. The coconut cream can be substituted with coconut milk (home-made or store-bought) – just use about 500 ml of thick coconut milk in that case. If needed, you can add in a little gram flour to thicken the broth. Use water if needed, otherwise skip it entirely.
  10. Please do not be intimidated by the long list of ingredients for the Khao Suey. It is a very simple dish to put together. Only basic prep work is needed, and then, it is a matter of minutes to get the Khao Suey ready.
  11. Ensure that you keep the flame at medium while adding the coconut cream/milk. Cook the broth on a medium flame to prevent curdling.
  12. The use of store-bought coconut cream and paneer here does not make this the healthiest dish. If you can swap these two ingredients for home-made coconut milk and paneer, you transform this into a (relatively) healthy dish.

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Foodie Monday Blog Hop

This recipe is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for the week is #FoodMagBest, wherein participants have to cook up recipes that are worthy of the front cover of a magazine. Quite an interesting theme, right?

This week’s theme was decided upon by Seema of Mildly Indian. I chose to demonstrate how to make Burmese Veg Khow Suey, for the theme.

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I’m sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #260. The co-hosts this week are Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

Postcards From The 75th Ayappan Festival, Tattamangalam, Kerala

Tattamangalam, a village near Palakkad in Kerala, is a small place if you compare it to the sprawling cities of today. However, it is quite big if you choose to compare it to the surrounding villages. It is the village where my mother-in-law was born and grew up, a cherished childhood and adolescence, judging from the several anecdotes she has narrated to us of the customs and traditions, the people and the lifestyle of her hometown. I have visited Tattamangalam a couple of times with her in the past and it is, indeed, a quiet and charming place, a world that is far, far away from the hustle and bustle of my own today. However, it is very recently, towards the fag end of 2018, that I got an opportunity to witness the Ayappan festival celebrations that are an annual affair in this village.

For the last 74 years, Tattamangalam has been conducting festivities to commemorate ‘Ayappan season’, the period between Diwali (October-November) till Pongal (January 14), which is when the maximum number of pilgrims visit the holy temple of Lord Ayappa at Sabarimala. These festivities in Tattamangalam, typically held towards the end of every December, are quite grand, I have always been told, including parades by elephants, performances by music artistes, large-scale community meals, frenzied beats of drums and cymbals, and the blowing of trumpets. In December 2018, Tattamangalam celebrated the 75th edition of the Ayappan Festival Celebrations, and my extended family and I figured it was time to pay a visit. I am glad we booked our tickets at the very last minute (we were lucky to even get them, indeed!) and visited, for the festival was bigger and better than ever.

Many families staying away from Tattamangalam had had the same thoughts as we did, I suppose, as we saw an influx of city-dwellers to witness the festivities. I was, naturally, thrilled to see the magnificence of it all, in a relatively less crowded setting at that, and went crazy clicking pictures with my camera. It was lovely meeting my mother-in-law’s old friends and acquaintances, and just walking around the clean village roads, breathing in the pure air. We even managed to do some shopping for the bub in the fair that came up in the village streets, on the occasion of the festival celebrations.

I leave you with some pictures from the celebrations, of the pretty stalls that came up all over, of our walks around Tattamangalam.

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The people of Tattamangalam, making rangolis at their doorsteps, in preparation for the ceremonial procession to pass through the village
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People lighting the lamps, at one of the many serene temples in Tattamangalam
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The ceremonial elephants, being readied for the procession around the village. Check out the anklets are being tied around their legs!
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A chariot being readied, for the ceremonial procession
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The ceremonial elephants, all decked up, being taken for a walk around the village
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Taking selfies, with the majestic tuskers in the background
The ceremonial elephants, saluting at one of the temples in Tattamangalam
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The celebrations are all set to begin, and the men with the drums, cymbals and trumpets pour in to the village
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… And the celebrations begin! Here are devotees dancing and performing pooja on the backs of the elephants.
The sounds of trumpets, cymbals and drums rent the air. I can’t put into words the frenzy and fervour that filled the atmosphere at this time.

 

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Stalls selling earrings, hair clips, toys, bangles, food and what not, lining the streets of Tattamangalam. Oh, my, the village wore a fair-like atmosphere!
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Goddess Bagavathiamman, making the rounds of the village, in her bedecked chariot
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The chariot for the procession, all decked up and ready. Here, women are preparing rangolis on the ground, in preparation for the chariot to make its customary rounds around the village.
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A close-up of the men making the music. You should check out the video on my Facebook page to understand just how magical this was!
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Scenes from the idyllic village life in Tattamangalam. Sigh! I would love to spend a couple of days more soaking in this serenity!
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Two stone elephants adorning someone’s doorstep, in Tattamangalam. They surely caught my fancy!
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The gorgeousness that was the village pond! My mother-in-law used to swim here, apparently, when she was a little girl.
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The famed Kerala nei payasam (kheer cooked in ghee) getting ready for the community meal
A musical performance in the village, to commemorate the Ayappan Festival
The elephants, their duties done, being fed before they were led to their holding places to take rest. This was, as per me, the most amazing thing.

Check out my Facebook album for more pictures from the celebration!

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Tips for travellers:

  1. The nearest railway station to Tattamangalam village is at Palakkad. From Palakkad, it is quite easy to find a cab that will take you to Tattamangalam. The roads are in excellent condition, and the on-road journey takes barely half an hour.
  2. The nearest airport is at Coimbatore. From Coimbatore, it is a roughly 1.5-hour journey on road to Palakkad, with the roads in excellent condition. Local trains also ply between Coimbatore and Palakkad.
  3. There are no great stay options in Tattamangalam, as far as I know, considering that it is but a small village. Your best bet would be to rent a hotel/stay in Palakkad, and hire a cab to reach Tattamangalam.
  4. Please do find out the exact dates and timings for the Ayappan festival timings in Tattamangalam from the presiding body, the Sri Dharma Sastha Utsavam Trust, if at all you plan to witness them.
  5. I am pretty sure there are several villages across Kerala that host similar festivities for the Ayappan festival. Tattamangalam’s celebrations are believed to be among the best, though. I don’t have any information about the festivals that might be conducted in other villages, but we do receive the schedule for Tattamangalam, as it is my mom-in-law’s ancestral place.

I hope you guys enjoyed the visuals! Please do let me know, in your comments!

 

Malabar Masala Choru|Kerala-Style Curried Rice

The recipe that I am going to present to you today is that for Malabar Masala Choru or Kerala-Style Curried Rice. This is a simple rice dish, one made with minimal ingredients, yet absolutely delicious. It is a one-pot dish as well, one that you can make in a pressure cooker (or pan) within a matter of minutes. Perfect for those times when you are pressed for time, but want to eat something hearty!

I recently made this Kerala-Style Curried Rice for a weekend lunch, and it was a crowd pleaser! Everyone loved it, including my little daughter. 🙂 It made for a refreshing change from the kind of pulao I am used to cooking, too – those involve quite a bit of grinding and chopping, while there’s none of that in this recipe. I know, for sure, that I am going to be making this again, many more times.

The credit for this recipe goes to the very talented blogger Rafeeda, who authors The Big Sweet Tooth. As the name suggests, Rafeeda’s blog is full of dessert recipes, including some incredible bakes. For this Malabar Masala Choru, I have largely followed Rafeeda’s instructions, with a few variations and additions of my own.

I cooked this dish for Food Bloggers Recipe Swap, a Facebook group that I am part of. Every month, the food bloggers in the group pair up, and each pair cooks dishes from their partner’s blog. Great way to explore food from different parts of the world, I say! Mireille, author of The Schizo Chef, who is spearheading the recipe swap group, paired me with Rafeeda for this month. I decided on this simple savoury dish from Rafeeda’s blog.

Now, without further ado, let’s check out the way I prepared this delectable Malabar Masala Choru.

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  1. 1-1/2 cups basmati rice
  2. 1 medium-sized onion
  3. 1 medium-sized tomato
  4. 3 green chillies
  5. 5-6 cloves of garlic
  6. 4 tablespoons fresh, shelled green peas
  7. 1 tablespoon ghee
  8. Salt to taste
  9. 1/2 tablespoon turmeric powder
  10. Red chilli powder to taste
  11. 1 teaspoon garam masala or to taste
  12. 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  13. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
  14. 10-12 fresh mint leaves

Method:

  1. Firstly, we will prep the vegetables you need to make this Malabar Masala Choru. Peel the garlic cloves and the onion. Crush the garlic cloves roughly, using a mortar and pestle. Chop the onion finely. Chop the tomato finely as well. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep aside.
  2. Wash the basmati rice in running water, a couple of times. Drain out the excess water. Keep aside.
  3. Heat the ghee in a pressure cooker bottom. Add the chopped onion, along with a little salt. Saute on medium flame till the onion begins to brown.
  4. Add the shelled green peas, crushed garlic and slit green chillies to the pressure cooker. Saute for a minute.
  5. Now, add the washed and drained rice to the cooker, along with 3 cups of water. Also, add in the chopped tomatoes, salt to taste, red chilli powder to taste, turmeric powder, garam masala and coriander powder. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
  6. Close the pressure cooker and put the whistle on. Pressure cook on high flame for 4 whistles. Let the pressure release naturally.
  7. When the pressure has completely gone down, open the cooker. Fluff up the rice gently.
  8. Serve the Malabar Masala Choru hot, garnished with finely chopped coriander and mint leaves (roughly torn using your hands).
  9. You can use a couple more green chillies in the above recipe and do away with the red chilli powder entirely, too. I think that is just what I would like to do when I make this the next time.

Notes:

  1. The key to getting this recipe right is keeping it really simple. Minimal ingredients (only basic stuff, nothing more than that) have been used. Spice powders have been used only in limited quantities, just enough to make the dish fragrant and not overpower it. I like the recipe as is but, if you must, you can add in some ginger; other veggies (like carrot or cauliflower); whole spices like cardamom, cloves or cinnamon; and other ingredients like paneer (cottage cheese) and/or cooked soya chunks.
  2. The original recipe asks for the rice to be cooked in a pan. However, I have used a pressure cooker to do so. You can use any of these techniques you prefer. Also, I have changed the quantities of certain ingredients used in the original recipe (albeit a little) and made a couple of additions of my own.
  3. I have used fresh green peas here. You may use frozen ones instead, too.
  4. This Malabar Masala Choru does not really need an accompaniment. It is quite flavourful on its own. However, if you wish to serve this with an accompaniment, a raita would be the best choice.
  5. Basmati rice or any other fragrant variety of rice would be best to make this dish.
  6. Add the mint leaves and coriander to the Malabar Masala Choru only after it is fully cooked and ready, just before serving. This rice tastes best when served hot.
  7. At 4 whistles, my Malabar Masala Choru was well cooked, but not overly so. It was just right for us. If you would like a grainier version, cook for 3 whistles on high flame.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

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Check out what the other members of the Food Bloggers Recipe Swap have dished up for this month!

Cantaloupe, Beetroot & Carrot Smoothie by Jayashree| Pumpkin Chia Popsicles by Seema| Non-Alcoholic Green Apple Martini by Jagruti| Double Bean Sriracha Hummus by Rafeeda| Instant Semolina Idli by Mayuri| Rice Flour by Sasmita| Vegan Pumpkin Falafel by Lathiya| Instant Ragi Idli by Renu| Blueberry Cardamom Lemon Muffins by Ali| Githeri by Mireille| Cheat’s Chocolate Bread by Nayna| Green Chickpea Salad by Archana| Dry Garlic Chutney Powder by Sandhya

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I’m sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #260. The co-hosts this week are Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

Classic Sakkarai Pongal| Traditional Sweet Pongal Recipe

Hola, guys and girls!

Warm wishes from our family to you for Pongal, Lohri, Makar Sankranti and Magh Bihu! I hope all of you are enjoying the festivities in your part of the world.

We are getting ready to celebrate Pongal tomorrow, January 15. The bub has Pongal celebrations in her school today, and a holiday tomorrow. I’m all stocked up, with respect to special groceries, all set to make some Pongal-special dishes tomorrow. The husband will be working, but I hope we’ll be able to catch up on at least a bit of the festive fun!

I recently realised I have never posted a Classic Sakkarai Pongal recipe on my blog, the traditional sweet pongal that is a must-have on the festival day. We can’t have that happening, so I decided to share the recipe today for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. I made Sakkarai Pongal a few days back to shoot pics for the blog. We thoroughly enjoyed our Pongal-treat-a-little-ahead-of-Pongal! 🙂

For the uninitiated, Sakkarai Pongal is a sweet dish made with rice and moong daal. Sweetened with jaggery, with loads of dry fruits and ghee added in, it surely is a lovely treat for kids and adults alike. We add some milk to the sweet pongal too, which makes it all the more rich and delectable. Typically, in our family, Sakkarai Pongal is served with Ezhu Thaan Kootu, a traditional Tamilnadu savoury preparation that uses at least seven types of vegetables.

The traditional Sakkarai Pongal, served with Ezhu Thaan Kootu

Sakkarai Pongal is not a very complicated dish to prepare. We make it in a pressure cooker, and not in a pan as is done traditionally, which ensures that it gets done in a jiffy and is still every bit just as delicious! Check out our family recipe below!

Ingredients (serves 4-5):

  1. 1 cup rice
  2. 1/2 cup moong daal
  3. 2 cups full-fat milk
  4. 3 cups jaggery powder
  5. 3-4 tablespoons ghee
  6. 10-15 cashewnuts
  7. 1 tablespoon raisins
  8. 2 generous pinches of cardamom powder

Method:

  1. Chop the cashewnuts roughly, into large-ish pieces. Keep aside.
  2. Wash the rice and moong daal together under running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the excess water.
  3. Pressure cook the rice and moong daal together with 2 cups of milk + 2-1/2 cups of water, for 4 whistles or till they are well-cooked. Let the pressure release naturally.
  4. When the pressure has gone down completely, mash the cooked rice and moong daal well, using a masher. Keep aside.
  5. Now, take the 3 cups of jaggery powder and 2 cups of water in a pan, and place it on high flame. Cook till the jaggery is completely dissolved in the water. Turn the flame down to medium when the jaggery syrup comes to a boil.
  6. At this stage, add the cooked rice and moong daal to the jaggery syrup. Cook on medium flame for 3-4 minutes, or till all the ingredients are well integrated together. Stir intermittently, to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  7. While the sweet pongal is cooking, heat the ghee in another pan. Add in the raisins and the chopped cashewnuts. Wait for the cashewnuts to turn slightly brown and the raisins to plump up. Ensure that they do not burn. Switch off gas and transfer the fried cashewnuts and raisins to the sweet pongal cooking in the other pan.
  8. Add the cardamom powder to the sweet pongal. Mix well.
  9. Let the Classic Sakkarai Pongal cook on medium flame for a minute or two after adding the cardamom powder, cashewnuts and raisins. Keep stirring intermittently. That’s it!
  10. Serve the sweet pongal hot, warm or at room temperature.

Notes:

1. I use Nandini full-cream milk that has been boiled and cooled, in this recipe.

2. The quantity of jaggery you will need depends upon its quality and sweetness. For us, double the quantity of jaggery : (the quantity of rice + moong daal) works perfectly.

3. I have used Sona Masoori raw rice to make this Classic Sakkarai Pongal. You may use any other variety of rice you prefer, instead.

4. I have used organic jaggery powder here, which had a deep, brown colour. That accounts for the dark brown colour of the Classic Sakkarai Pongal. The colour of your sweet pongal will, naturally, depend upon the type of jaggery you use.

5. Adjust the quantity of ghee, cashewnuts and raisins you use, depending upon personal taste preferences.

6. The jaggery I use doesn’t have any impurities, so I haven’t filtered the jaggery syrup. However, you might want to filter in case you suspect the presence of impurities in the jaggery you have.

7. Make sure you cook the rice and moong daal till they are well done, and can be mashed well. For us, 4 whistles in the pressure cooker works perfectly.

8. If you are using a block of jaggery, pound it to make powder before proceeding to make this sweet pongal.

9. Edible camphor and/or clove powder are sometimes added to Sakkarai Pongal, to stop the sweetness from becoming overpowering. I haven’t used them here.

10. If you don’t want to use milk, use 4-1/2 cups of water to pressure cook the rice, in the above recipe. The rest of the steps remain exactly the same.

11. I have used a 5-litre pressure cooker to prepare this Sakkarai Pongal.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

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Foodie Monday Blog Hop

This recipe is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme this week is #HarvestHarmony, wherein the participants are cooking special dishes for the Indian harvest festivals of Pongal, Makar Sankranti and Lohri.

Check out the other (not-so-traditional) Sakkarai Pongal recipes on my blog:

Banana Sweet Pongal| Proso Millet Sweet Pongal

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I’m sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #260. The co-hosts this week are Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

Ezhu Thaan Kootu| Pongal Kootu| Thiruvathirai Kootu

Pongal is just around the corner!

I’m here with a Pongal-special recipe today – one for Ezhu Thaan Kootu or Pongal Kootu, a traditional recipe from Tamilnadu.

About the festival of Pongal

For the uninitiated, Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated in South India, particularly in Tamilnadu. The festival falls in the Tamil month of Thai (typically in January as per the English calendar), which is why it is sometimes referred to as Thai Pongal. Pongal is celebrated on the day the sun enters the zodiac sign of Makara (Capricorn), which usually happens between January 13 and 15. January 15 has been declared as Pongal day, in 2019.

The tradition of celebrating Pongal is believed to be over 1000 years old. The festival corresponds to harvest festivals celebrated in different parts of the country – Lohri in Punjab, Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in Gujarat, and Magh Bihu in Assam. In Tamilnadu, Pongal is a major affair, with the celebrations continuing for 3-4 days. Thanks are offered to the sun for a bountiful harvest, old belongings are disposed of and new ones are bought, and a variety of sweet and savoury dishes are prepared. (Check out this very informative blog post for details on the way Pongal is celebrated in Tamilnadu.)

The term ‘Pongal‘ also refers to ‘Sakkarai Pongal‘ or a rice dish cooked with milk and jaggery to celebrate this festival. Traditionally, the sakkarai pongal is cooked outside, on a wood fire, in a new earthenware pot. A piece of turmeric root is tied around the pot, which is decorated with turmeric (haldi) and vermilion (kumkum) paste. The rice cooking in the pot is allowed to overflow, indicating prosperity and abundance. Venn Pongal (a savoury version of the above rice dish), vada, payasam (kheer), and Pongal Kootu are some other dishes commonly prepared for the celebratory festival feast.

Ezhu Thaan Kootu or Pongal Kootu

Considering that Pongal is a celebration of bountiful harvest, Ezhu Thaan Kootu is an apt thing to prepare for the festival. Ezhu Thaan Kootu is Tamil for ‘a curry with seven vegetables’. This traditional Tamilnadu preparation uses at least seven local, seasonal vegetables – largely raw banana (vazhakkai), pumpkin (pushnikkai), cluster beans (kotthavarangai), potatoes (urulaikizhangu), elephant yam (senaikizhangu), sweet potato (sakkaravelikizhangu), broad beans (avarekkai) and the like. One can add in more than seven vegetables too, but using them in odd numbers (seven, nine or eleven vegetables) is the norm. In today’s times, people make this kootu using a mix of native vegetables and ‘English’ ones (carrots, green peas, French beans and the like).

The seven major elements of the Ezhu Thaan Kootu I made, a while ago

In Tamilnadu, this Ezhu Thaan Kootu is typically served on the day of Pongal, as an accompaniment to Sakkarai Pongal. The savoury Ezhu Thaan Kootu and the sweet Sakkarai Pongal are perfect complements to each other. For this reason, the kootu is often also referred to as Pongal Kootu. Since this vegetable dish is also prepared on another Tamilian festival, Thiruvathirai, it is also called Thiruvathirai Kootu.

This Ezhu Thaan Kootu is a thing of beauty. It is a blend of sweet, salty, tangy and spicy flavours, a great thing to prepare on festive occasions and ordinary days alike. It is a lovely way to clear up your refrigerator of all those bits and pieces of vegetables that have been lounging around. With sweet pongal or plain steamed rice, this kootu pairs up very well. I have it with rotis as well.

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Pongal Kootu aka Thiruvathirai Kootu or Ezhu Thaan Kootu

The Ezhu Thaan Kootu is traditionally prepared in a pan, which takes a bit of time to cook. My mother, however, uses a sort of short-cut method, doing some of the steps in a pressure cooker. I follow in my Amma‘s footsteps, in this regard. 🙂

Now, without further ado, let’s check out the my family recipe for Pongal Kootu aka Ezhu Thaan Kootu, shall we?

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

  1. About 4-1/2 cups of mixed vegetables, chopped (I used red pumpkin, raw banana, cluster beans, carrot, broad beans, elephant yam, sweet potato, potato, French beans, fresh green chana and green peas)
  2. Salt to taste
  3. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  4. 1/4 cup toor daal
  5. A small gooseberry-sized ball of tamarind
  6. 2 tablespoons jaggery powder or to taste

For the spice mix:

  1. 1 teaspoon oil
  2. 1-1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  3. 1-1/2 tablespoon chana daal
  4. 1/2 tablespoon urad daal
  5. 1/2 tablespoon raw rice
  6. 4 dry red chillies or as per taste
  7. 1/4 cup fresh grated coconut

For the tempering:

  1. 1 tablespoon oil
  2. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  3. 2-3 dry red chillies
  4. 2 generous pinches of asafoetida
  5. 1 sprig curry leaves

Method:

First up, we will make the necessary preparations to make the Ezhu Thaan Kootu.

  1. Make sure all the vegetables are chopped into bite-sized pieces. Remove strings from vegetables like French beans and cluster beans, and chop them into 1-inch pieces. Peel veggies like potato, sweet potato, raw banana, yam and red pumpkin and chop into cubes.
  2. Soak the tamarind in a little hot water for at least 10 minutes. Extract a thick paste out of it. Keep aside.
  3. Wash the toor daal in running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the excess water. Now, add in just enough fresh water to cover the toor daal, and pressure cook it for 4 whistles on high flame. Let the pressure release naturally.
  4. When the pressure comes down entirely, get the cooked toor daal out. Mash it well, using a masher. Keep aside.

Now, we will pressure cook the vegetables and simultaneously get the spice mix for the kootu ready.

  1. Take the chopped vegetables in a pressure cooker bottom. I have used a 5-litre pressure cooker here. Add in a little water, salt to taste and turmeric powder. Close the cooker and put the weight on. Pressure cook for 3 whistles on high flame or till the vegetables are cooked, but not overly mushy. Let the pressure come down naturally.
  2. Now, we will prepare the spice mix. Heat the oil for the spice mix in a pan. Turn heat to medium, and add in the coriander seeds, chana daal, urad daal, raw rice, coconut and dry red chillies. Fry on medium heat till the daals start turning brown. Make sure the ingredients do not burn. Switch off gas, transfer the fried ingredients to a plate and let them cool down fully.
  3. When the fried ingredients for the spice mix have cooled down completely, grind them together to a powder in a mixer. Keep aside.

Now, we will prepare the Ezhu Thaan Kootu.

  1. When the pressure has gone down completely, open the cooker with the cooked vegetables in it. Place it back on medium flame. Add the cooked and mashed toor daal to it, the jaggery powder, tamarind paste and the spice mix powder we prepared earlier. Mix well. Check and adjust seasonings as needed.
  2. Cook on medium heat till the mixture thickens, 2-3 minutes. Add a little water if needed. Ideally, this kootu should have a slightly runny consistency, slightly thicker than sambar. Switch off gas at this stage.

And now, we will do the final process – prepare the tempering for the kootu.

Lastly, we will prepare the tempering for the Ezhu Thaan Kootu. Heat the oil for the tempering, in a pan. Add the mustard seeds, and allow them to pop. Now, add the curry leaves, dried red chillies and the asafoetida. Let them stay in for a couple of minutes. Switch off the gas, and add this tempering to the kootu. Mix well. Your Ezhu Thaan Kootu is ready to serve!

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

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I’m sharing this recipe with Fiesta Friday #258. The co-host this week is Laurena @ Life Diet Health.