Vegetable Pongal| Ven Pongal With Vegetables

The festival of Pongal is just a couple of days away. Today, let me share with you all a recipe that’s perfect for the occasion – Vegetable Pongal. This is a spin on the traditional savoury Ven Pongal recipe I had shared on the blog some time ago, and an absolutely delicious one at that.

Vegetable Pongal or Ven Pongal with vegetables

What goes into Vegetable Pongal

Like Ven Pongal, this dish is prepared using rice and moong dal. You can use any variety of rice you prefer – I usually go for Sona Masoori.

In addition to the usual ghee, black pepper, cumin, ginger, green chillies and cashewnuts that are used in making pongal, this one also includes vegetables. I usually stick to carrots, green peas and beans to make this Vegetable Pongal. The vegetables make the pongal all the more nutritious and flavourful.

How to make Vegetable Pongal or Ven Pongal with vegetables

Here is how to go about it.

Ingredients (serves 4-5):

1. 1 cup rice

2. 1/4 cup moong dal

3. About 3/4 cup mixed vegetables like carrot, green peas and beans

4. 2 tablespoons ghee

5. A 1-inch piece of ginger

6. 2 green chillies

7. A sprig of curry leaves

8. About 10 cashewnuts

9. 3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

10. 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

11. 2 pinches of asafoetida

12. Salt to taste

13. About 1/2 tablespoon coarsely crushed black pepper or to taste

Method:

Top left, centre and right: Steps 1, 2 and 3, Bottom left, centre and right: Steps 4, 5 and 6

1. Wash the rice and moong dal thoroughly, then drain out all the water.

2. Transfer the drained rice and moong dal to a wide vessel. Add in 4 cups of water. Place the vessel in a pressure cooker. Pressure cook on high flame for 4 whistles. Let the pressure release naturally.

3. In the meantime, prep the vegetables. Keep the green peas ready. Peel the carrot and chop finely. Remove strings from the beans and chop finely.

4. Steam the vegetables using a steamer. Keep ready.

5. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep the curry leaves and cashewnuts handy. Peel the ginger and chop finely.

6. When the pressure from the cooker has completely gone down, get the cooked rice and moong dal out. Mash them lightly.

Top left and right: Steps 7 and 8, Below top right and bottom right: Step 9, Bottom left: Step 10

7. Heat the ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the mustard, and allow them to sputter. Add in the cumin seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves, cashewnuts, ginger and slit green chillies. Reduce flame to medium. Saute on medium flame for a minute or so, browning the cashewnuts, taking care not to burn the ingredients.

8. Add in the cooked rice and moong dal. Add about 3/4 cup water or as needed to adjust the consistency of the pongal. Mix well. Continue to keep the flame at medium.

9. Add salt to taste, followed by the coarsely crushed black pepper and the steamed vegetables. Mix well.

10. Cook on medium flame for 3-4 minutes or till the mixture thickens up and comes together well. Switch off gas when the mixture is still on the runnier side – it will thicken up further on cooling. Your Vegetable Pongal is ready. Serve hot, drizzled with some ghee and raita of your choice.

Tips & Tricks

1. Vegetables like green peas, beans and carrot go well in this pongal. I would suggest sticking to similar veggies only.

2. Adjust the amount of water you use, depending upon the consistency of the pongal that you require.

3. Make sure the rice and moong dal are well cooked and soft before adding them to the pan.

4. Adjust the quantity of black pepper and green chillies depending upon the spice level you are comfortable with.

5. Do not skimp on the ghee. It adds a beautiful fragrance and flavour to the Vegetable Pongal.

6. Remember to keep the Vegetable Pongal runny. It thickens up quite a bit with time.

7. This is a completely vegetarian recipe, but not vegan (plant-based) due to the use of ghee.

8. To make this dish gluten-free, simply skip the asafoetida used in the tempering. Most Indian brands of asafoetida contain wheat flour, so they are best avoided in case you are following a gluten-free diet. However, if you can find 100% gluten-free asafoetida, you could definitely use it.

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

Mexican Chaat| Nachos Chaat

Nachos Chaat is a fusion of Indian and Mexican cuisine, and an extremely delicious one at that.  I am a huge chaat fan, as you all probably already know, and love converting anything and everything into chaat. 😊 My latest was this one, made using nachos and assorted Indian and Mexican ingredients. It was a big hit with the extended family.

This Nachos Chaat (you could call it Mexican Chaat, too) is simple to put together. The ingredients can be prepped in advance and the chaat assembled just before serving, which makes it perfect for holiday parties and other get-togethers. Do try it out!

You might also want to check out the other Mexican recipes on my blog – Easy Cheesy Nachos| Loaded Veggie Burrito| Elotes or Mexican Street-Style Corn| Indian-Style Vegetable Quesadilla| Mexican Chilli Chocolate Ice Cream| Frijoles Charros or Mexican Bean Soup


What goes into this Mexican Chaat

Nachos forms the base of this chaat.

Cooked rajma beans, sweet corn kernels, onion, capsicum, slices of black olives and sour cream also go into this chaat – elements that are quintessentially used in many Mexican dishes.

The Indian touch is provided by chopped cucumber and coriander, fine sev (which is also called ‘nylon sev‘ or ‘zero number sev’), roasted cumin powder, black salt, as well as the sweet and spicy chutneys that are commonly used in chaats.

Check the ‘Tips and Tricks’ section of this post for details on the various ingredients used here.

How to make Mexican Chaat

Here is how I made it.

Ingredients (serves 2):

1. 150 grams nachos

2. 1/4 cup dried rajma beans

3. 1/4 cup sweet corn kernels

4. 1 small onion

5. 1/2 of a medium-sized capsicum

6. 1/2 of a medium-sized cucumber

7. 2 tablespoons pitted and sliced black olives

8. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander

9. Sour cream, as needed

10. Spicy green chutney, as needed

11. Sweet-sour tamarind chutney, as needed

12. Fine sev, as needed

13. Roasted cumin powder, as needed

14. Black salt, as needed

Method:

Bottom left: Step 1, Top right: Step 2, Top left: Step 3, Bottom right: Step 4 and 5

1. Soak the dried rajma beans in enough water for 8-10 hours or overnight. When they are done soaking, drain out all the water from them.

2. Transfer the soaked and drained rajma beans to a wide vessel. Add in enough fresh water to cover the beans completely. Place the vessel in a pressure cooker. Pressure cook on high flame for 5-6 whistles or till the beans are thoroughly cooked but not overly mushy. Let the pressure release naturally.

3. In the meantime, steam the sweet corn kernels till done. Transfer to a plate and allow them to cool down completely.

4. When the pressure from the cooker has completely gone down, get the cooked rajma beans out. Drain out the water from them and reserve for future use. Transfer the cooked rajma beans to a plate and allow them to cool down completely.

5. Chop the cucumber, capsicum and onion finely. Assemble the rest of the ingredients and keep them ready.

6. Once the cooked ingredients have completely cooled down, we will begin assembling the Mexican Chaat. Arrange the nachos on a large platter. Spread out the cooked rajma beans, sweet corn, onion, capsicum, cucumber and sliced olives evenly over the nachos. Place dollops of the sour cream evenly over this, then drizzle the sweet-sour tamarind chutney and the spicy green chutney. Spread the fine sev evenly on top of this, then sprinkle some roasted cumin powder and black salt. Your Mexican Chaat platter is now ready to serve. Serve immediately.

Tips & Tricks

1. I have used store-bought nachos here, but you may make your own at home if you so prefer. I have used Tikka Masala-flavoured nachos from Cornitos, here.

2. Make sure all the cooked ingredients have cooled down to room temperature before beginning to assemble the chaat.

3. Make sure the rajma beans are well cooked. They should not be overly mushy. Different types of rajma beans take different times to cook through. Here, I have used Kashmiri rajma.

4. I have used sour cream from Amul here. The fine sev is store-bought, from a brand called Garden.

5. The Tikka Masala nachos I used were salty, so I did not use any salt in the toppings. If required, add some salt to the chaat toppings you are using.

6. I have used a vegetable steamer to steam the sweet corn kernels. You can even cook them in boiling water or in a pressure cooker.

7. Do not discard the water used in cooking the rajma beans as it is filled with nutrients. It can be used in gravy-based curries, soups, etc.

8. I have used home-made sweet-sour tamarind chutney and spicy green chutney.

9. Serve this Mexican Chaat immediately after assembling it. Not doing so might make the nachos soggy.

10. Adjust the quantity of sev, sweet chutney, sour cream, spicy green chutney, roasted cumin powder and black salt as per personal taste preferences.

11. If you are preparing the Mexican Chaat for a party or get-together, you can prep the ingredients in advance and keep them ready, then assemble the dish just before serving.

12. To make the roasted cumin powder – dry roast a couple of tablespoons of cumin in a pan, on medium flame, till it becomes nice and fragrant. Take care to ensure that it does not burn. Allow the roasted cumin to cool down completely, then grind to a coarse powder. I make small quantities of this powder, store in a dry and air-tight bottle, and use as needed.

13. Black salt aka kala namak gives a unique flavour and fragrance to chaats, and I highly recommend not skipping it.

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

Fruit & Nut Chocolate Bites

Fruit & Nut Chocolate Bites are just the perfect thing to munch on, any time of the day. These delectable little bites are good for holiday parties and other gatherings, and they make for a wonderful edible gift as well. And, what’s more, they are super easy to make!

Let me take you through the process of preparing these Fruit & Nut Chocolate Bites.

Super easy, delicious Fruit & Nut Chocolate Bites

What goes into these Fruit & Nut Chocolate Bites?

Chocolate is the main ingredient here, of course, and you can use any variety you prefer. I have used 55% dark couverture vegan chocolate from a Bangalore-based brand called Sihi. This chocolate is made without refined sugar (they use organic Khandsari) and sans emulsifiers, preservatives or any kind of artificial additives.

I have used a mix of dried fruits and nuts to make these bites – almonds, cashewnuts, cranberries and raisins. The cranberries are from Del Monte, and do contain added sugar.

If eaten in moderation, these Fruit & Nut Chocolate Bites are almost a healthy snacking option. I mean, they are definitely better than commercially available versions. By making them at home, you can control what goes into these bites – choose a good-quality, zero-additive chocolate and use only sugar-free nuts and fruits, if you prefer! You could also add in exotic ingredients like kaffir lime zest, orange peel, dried rose petals or toasted coconut, to make the chocolate bites more interesting. You could even get innovative like my blog friend Mayuri ji, who has used namkeen Bombay mixture in her chocolate bark!

How I made these Fruit & Nut Chocolate Bites

Here is how I went about it.

Ingredients (makes 10-12 pieces):

1. About 200 grams of chocolate

2. 12-15 cashewnuts

3. 12-15 almonds

4. 1 heaped tablespoon dried cranberries

5. 1 heaped tablespoon raisins

Method:

Top left and right: Steps 1 and 2, Bottom right and left: Steps 3 and 4

1. Measure out the dried fruit and nuts, and keep them ready.

2. Dry roast the cashewnuts and almonds in a pan on medium flame. They should get crisp and get some brown spots, but not get burnt. At this stage, transfer them to a plate and allow them to cool down completely.

3. In the meantime, use a sharp knife to cut the chocolate into small pieces. Transfer the chocolate pieces into a bowl. Keep ready.

4. When completely cooled down, chop the roasted cashewnuts and almonds roughly. Chop the dried cranberries and raisins roughly too. Keep ready.

5. Spread out a large-ish piece of parchment paper or butter paper on the kitchen platform.

Top left and right: Steps 6 and 7, Bottom right and left: Steps 8 and 9

6. Use the double boiler method to melt the chocolate on the stovetop. Take about 2 cups of water in a large pan, place on high flame, and allow to come to a boil. At this stage, place the bowl with the chocolate pieces inside the pan, in such a way that it floats in the water. Reduce heat to medium.

7. Let the water boil at medium flame till the chocolate in the bowl melts completely and becomes smooth. Mix the chocolate intermittently using a spoon. Switch off gas when the chocolate has fully melted.

8. Immediately add the chopped cashewnuts, almonds, raisins and cranberries to it. Mix quickly.

10. Now, acting fast, drop spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture on the parchment/butter paper. Do not overcrowd the paper, but keep some gap between two spoonfuls. If needed, gently nudge the chocolate mixture with the spoon to spread it out.

11. Leave the mixture at room temperature for a few hours, for the chocolate mixture to set and harden. You could even place the parchment/butter paper in the refrigerator, which will speed up the process of setting. Once set, the Fruit & Nut Chocolate Bites are ready to consume.

Tips & Tricks

1. You can use any type of chocolate you prefer – milk, white, dark or semi-dark. You could use a mix of two types of chocolate too, or even chocolate chips. For best results, make sure the chocolate you use is of very good quality. I have used 55% dark couverture vegan chocolate from a Bangalore-based brand called Sihi. The brand sent me a sample of the chocolate to try out, and I really loved it.

2. Like I was saying earlier, you can use any nuts, seeds or dried fruit of your preference in these chocolate bites. Adjust the quantities as per personal preferences.

3. Chocolate should always be melted on the stovetop using the double boiler method, as stated above. The bowl containing the chocolate pieces should not come directly in contact with a heat source. Also, make sure the water does not come into contact with the chocolate mixture. Alternatively, you could use a microwave oven to melt the chocolate – I have no personal experience with this, though.

4. You need to act fast, once the chocolate has fully melted – the mixing of the dried fruits and nuts and the dropping of spoonfuls of the mixture on the paper has to happen fast, while the chocolate is still hot. Make sure you keep the parchment/butter paper ready to receive the hot chocolate mixture. Here, I have used the food wrapping paper from Oddy Uniwraps.

5. Here, I have mixed the nut and fruit pieces into the melted chocolate. You could place them on top of the chocolate bites too, after you have spooned them out, while the mixture is still hot. This takes a bit more time than the above-mentioned method, but gives prettier-looking chocolate bites.

6. You may spoon out the chocolate mixture as thick or thin as you prefer. I prefer keeping them moderately thick.

7. Once completely set, the Fruit & Nut Chocolate Bites can be stored in a clean, dry, air-tight bottle. At room temperature, they stay well for weeks.

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

Kaffir Lime Syrup| Makrut Lime Syrup

I am going to share with you all today the recipe for Kaffir Lime Syrup, a gorgeously fragrant and delicious syrup made using makrut limes. The syrup is infused with the heady scent of these limes, and acquires a pretty green colour from the zest used in it. It is a simple confection to put together, but very versatile; it goes wonderfully in all kinds of cocktails and mocktails, over ice cream, warm cakes, and various Oriental-style desserts. This Kaffir Lime Syrup is just the thing you should try out this Diwali – the sky is the limit to the things you can do with it!

A closer look at Kaffir Limes

Makrut limes (also called ‘Kaffir Limes’) are an important part of Thai cuisine. They also find significant usage in cuisines like Indonesian, Malaysian, Burmese and Vietnamese.

These wrinkled limes are best known for their very fragrant skin and leaves. The zest from these fruits and leaves are, therefore, used to impart a heady scent to various dishes. There isn’t much of juice in the limes, though.

Kaffir limes are said to possess good amounts of essential oils that are wonderful for skin and hair health.

How to make Kaffir Lime Syrup

I found some wonderful fresh kaffir limes on Trikaya recently, and decided to use them in this syrup. It is a simple syrup made with sugar and water, to which I have added kaffir lime zest. I have used the juice from regular Indian limes (lemons?) for added flavour.

Here is how I made the Kaffir Lime Syrup.

Ingredients (makes about 1 cup):

1. 1 cup water

2. 1 cup sugar

3. Zest from 1 large kaffir lime, about 2 heaped teaspoons

4. Juice from 1-1/2 lime or as per taste

Method:

1. Zest one kaffir lime and keep ready. Take care to ensure that you zest only the green skin and do not get any of the white pith beneath – this might turn the syrup bitter.

2. Take the water in a heavy-bottomed pan. Place on high flame and let the water come to a boil. Now, add in the sugar. Reduce flame to medium. Allow the sugar get completely absorbed in the water. Stir intermittently.

3. Now, add the kaffir lime zest to the pan. Mix well.

4. Cook on medium flame for 10-12 minutes or till the syrup thickens up a bit. Stir intermittently. Do not overly thicken the syrup as it will then harden too much with time. Switch off gas when it has thickened.

5. Allow the syrup to cool down to room temperature. Then, mix in the lime juice. Your Kaffir Lime Syrup is ready. Store refrigerated in a clean, dry, air-tight bottle and use as needed.

Tips & Tricks

1. This is not a very concentrated syrup, but one that is ready to go over desserts and in drinks – so it doesn’t need to be diluted much. Please do keep this in mind.

2. Remember not to make the syrup too thick. It will become too thick with time, in that case.

3. This Kaffir Lime Syrup stays fresh for up to 10 days in the refrigerator in a clean, dry, air-tight bottle and used hygienically. Though refrigeration keeps it well for months, I would suggest it is best used within 7-10 days.

4. Use fresh kaffir limes to make this syrup – there’s really no substitute. However, if you are able to get only kaffir lime leaves where you live, you can tear up about 4-5 of them and use it instead of the zest. In case you don’t find kaffir limes or leaves, you could use the zest from regular Indian limes (popularly called ‘lemons’) instead – it’s definitely not a substitute, but it works, though the flavour and fragrance profiles are completely different.

5. I have used a regular vegetable grater to zest the kaffir lime. If you have a microplane zester, you can use it instead.

6. Make sure you avoid grating the white pith of the lime and get only the green skin. The pith might make the syrup bitter.

7. I used the zest from one large kaffir lime. You may adjust the quantity as per personal taste preferences, but make sure you don’t overdo it. Too much zest can make the syrup overpoweringly fragrant.

8. Don’t overcook the syrup after the zest is added to it. 10-12 minutes of cooking on medium flame is good enough to thicken it.

9. Make sure the syrup comes to room temperature before mixing in the lime juice.

10. You may filter out the zest before bottling the syrup, but I prefer leaving it in. We love the tiny bits of lime skin that add texture to the syrup.

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

Lauki Ka Halwa| Doodhi Halwa

Lauki Ka Halwa is a sweet treat typically prepared in the North of India for Diwali and other festive occasions. It is made using bottle gourd (‘lauki‘ in Hindi, ‘doodhi‘ in Gujarati), and it is quite incredible that this humble vegetable could yield such a delightful dessert. I learnt how to make Lauki Ka Halwa (aka Doodhi Halwa) from Gujarati friends of ours, years ago, and it has been a permanent fixture in our home ever since. For all its deliciousness, this is a very simple treat to put together, after all.

I kick-started Diwali preparations this year by making this Lauki Ka Halwa, offering a prayer of gratitude for leading me and my family on the path of recovery from Covid, recently. In today’s post, I am sharing with you all the way we make Lauki Ka Halwa at home.

What goes into my Lauki Ka Halwa

Bottle gourd is the main ingredient in this halwa, of course. Sugar is the sweetener I have used here.

I have used full-cream milk and ghee to add flavour and a lovely creamy texture to it. I have also added in some slivered almonds, to make the halwa all the more delectable and hearty. A hint of cardamom powder has also been used here, for that extra depth of fragrance.


How to make Lauki Ka Halwa

Here is how I make it.

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

1. 1 medium-sized bottle gourd (lauki), 2 heaped cups when grated

2. 4 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons ghee

3. 2 cups full-fat milk, boiled and warm

4. 1/2 cup sugar or as needed

5. 10-12 almonds

6. 3/4 teaspoon cardamom powder

Method:

1. Cut off the top and end of the bottle gourd. Peel the skin – don’t peel too much till the white part is exposed, the bottle gourd should still be green. Now, grate the bottle gourd medium-thick and keep it ready.

2. Keep some boiled milk warmed up and ready.

3. We will start by heating 4 tablespoons of ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan. When the ghee has melted, add the grated bottle gourd to the pan. Turn the flame down to medium.

4. Cook on medium flame for 4-5 minutes or till the bottle gourd starts softening. Stir intermittently, taking care to ensure that the bottle gourd does not burn.

5. Still keeping the flame at medium, add the warm milk to the pan. Mix well. Stirring intermittently, cook for about 10 minutes or till all the milk has dried up. The bottle gourd would be almost cooked by now.

6. When the bottle gourd has completely dried up, add in the sugar. Keep the flame still at medium. Mix well.

7. Upon adding the sugar, the mixture will loosen up and become watery. Do not worry about this, but continue cooking on medium flame, stirring intermittently. You will need to cook for 4-5 minutes more or till the mixture thickens up some.

8. In the meantime, chop the almonds into slivers and keep them ready.

8. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of ghee in a small pan. Add in the slivered almonds and keep them in for a few seconds, or till they get golden-brown. Ensure that the almonds do not burn. Add the almonds and ghee to the thickened bottle gourd mixture in the other pan. Mix everything well and cook for a minute more, then switch off gas.

9. Mix in the cardamom powder. Your Lauki Ka Halwa is ready. You can serve it hot, warm, at room temperature or chilled.

Tips & Tricks

1. Grate the bottle gourd fresh, just before making the halwa. Keeping the grated gourd out for too long will make it turn brown, which will affect the colour of the halwa.

2. Remember not to peel the bottle gourd too much. It should still be green after peeling and not overly white. This will give you a pretty, greenish halwa.

3. Use a heavy-bottomed pan to make the halwa, for best results. Cook the halwa throughout on medium flame, to prevent burning and yield a very flavourful result.

4. Use full-fat milk for best results. I have used Akshayakalpa full-cream milk here.

5. Do not overcook the Lauki Ka Halwa. Do not make it too try, but keep it slightly loose. It thickens up a bit with time.

6. Adjust the quantity of milk and sugar as per personal taste preferences.

7. I would suggest not skimping on the ghee. The above quantities of ghee are required for a flavourful halwa that is moist and melt-in-the-mouth, not too dry.

8. I have used home-made cardamom powder here – a handful of green cardamom ground to a smooth powder in a small mixer jar, skin and all. You can use store-bought cardamom powder instead, too.

9. This is a vegetarian and gluten-free dessert, but it is not vegan (plant-based).

10. You may add a few drops of green food colour to the Lauki Ka Halwa if you prefer, but that is purely optional. I have not used any artificial colours or additives here.

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