An Indian Holiday Feast

Hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving break. It’s the start of the season of over-indulgence! Thanksgiving weekend was filled with good food, drinks, family, friends, shopping, gossip & spending time with three precious little nieces. While we have the traditional meal with all the accompaniments each year, I’ve never really been a fan of turkey. I had seen recipes for (east)Indian spiced turkey several times, and had also been meaning to try roasting a cornish hen for several years. I decided to try to meld both together and improvised along the way. The results were a delicious & colorful meal that worked for our taste buds :). And it was easy enough to make for a weeknight meal.

Tandoori Cornish Hen

The menu included:

For dessert, we had warm and sweet Gulab Jamoons 🙂

[Scroll down for recipes of items that are not hyperlinked.]

Tandoori Cornish Hen

Masala Corn

  • 1 cup corn kernels (cooked and drained) – I buy frozen roasted corn kernels from Trader Joe’s
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp chaat masala
  • salt to taste (use black salt / kala namak if available for a better flavor)
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice
  • cilantro for garnish

Mix all ingredients well and serve. The measurements are just a guide – adjust as per your taste.

 Peas & Carrot Pulao

  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 small onion – sliced
  • 1/2 tbsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp green chilli paste (or 1 green chilli – slit)
  • 1/4 cup peas
  • 1/4 cup diced carrots
  • 1/2 tsp salt to taste

1) Heat oil in a medium pan and add the cumin seeds. Allow it to sizzle and pop for a few seconds.

2) Add the onion, ginger and green chilli. Saute on medium-high till translucent, stirring often.

3) Add the carrots and salt, and saute for 2 minutes.

4) Add the peas and cook for another 2 minutes.

5) Add the rice and saute for 1-2 minutes till it changes color.

6) Add 1 1/2 cups (one and a half) water and bring to boil.

7) As soon as the water comes to boil, stir once, reduce heat to LOW, and cook covered for about 12-15 minutes. Do not open the lid during this time. At end of cook time, open lid and gently fluff the rice with a spoon or fork. Check for doneness. Keep covered till ready to serve.

Raita

This recipe was given to me by my friend Sandhya’s mom and it is my most favorite raita recipe.

  • 1/2 medium grated cucumber
  • 1 cup greek yogurt / strained yogurt
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 small dry red chilli
  • 2 Tbsp grated coconut
  • salt to taste

1) Wash, peel & grate the cucumber and drain for a few minutes.

2) In a small blender bowl, add half the yogurt, cumin, chilli & coconut and blend till smooth.

3) Mix all ingredients together and salt to taste.

NOTE: If you use regular yogurt, squeeze out the water from the cucumber before mixing in.

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Kachumber

Kachumber

Depending on the region, Indian food is served with a small plate of sliced raw onions, tomatoes, radish, green chilli, lemon/ lime wedges and cilantro. While this is primarily a North Indian offering, my family (and many others I know from the South) usually serves this ‘salad’ with meat dishes. It’s not uncommon for rural diets to include these fresh raw vegetables with their roti or flatbread (made from rice, wheat, corn, buckwheat, maize, etc) as it make for a sharp accompaniment and travels well.

My husband is an onion-lover of the first degree and I hate them! As simple as this dish is, it’s a treat for him when I make some kachumber. He swears that a few pieces of raw onion, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of cilantro takes food to a whole new level. You can click here to see the Oven Roasted Tandoori Cornish Hen recipe and the complete menu that I served this Kachumber with.

Kachumber

  • 1 medium red onion – sliced
  • 1/2 medium tomato – seeded and cut into wedges
  • 1-2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp chaat masala OR salt to taste
  • lemon juice to taste
  • 1/2 tsp finely chopped green chilli (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and serve.

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

Here’s a dessert that I’ve made dozens of times and it has always brought rave reviews. Thanks to my aunt Uma for the recipe. Super easy to whip together, Mango Pudding can be made a day or two ahead, and will keep refrigerated for a couple days if covered tightly. This is a great dish to take for pot-luck meals as it travels well; no sloshing and spilling on your party outfit :)).

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

(Makes 35 1/3-cup servings; approx 12 cups total)

  • 3 cups water
  • 3 packets unflavored gelatin
  • 8 oz plain cream cheese (softened)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 (30 oz) mango pulp can – [available at most Indian grocers]
  • 8 oz Cool Whip (thawed)
  • saffron, cardamom powder, almonds/pistachio to garnish (optional)

Mango Pudding

1) Boil 3 cups water on the stove and stir well to completely dissolve 3 packets gelatin in it. Cool till luke warm – about 10 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, in a large round bowl (at least 4 quart/4 liter capacity), add the cream cheese and beat with a hand blender till smooth.

Mango Pudding

(Yes, I know the photo shows cream cheese & sugar together. You could do that too :).)

3) Add the sugar and blend with the cream cheese till light and fluffy, and well incorporated.

4) Add the mango pulp and CoolWhip – a little at a time – and beat well till no lumps remain. Scrape down the sides if necessary and mix well with the sugar-cheese mixture.

Mango Pudding Mango Pudding

5) Now slowly add the cooled gelatin in batches and make sure to thoroughly mix it with the rest of the ingredients. This step is important for the entire dish to set.

Mango Pudding

6) Pour into a 3-quart serving dish or into individual serving cups and chill till set, at least 6 hours or overnight.

7) Garnish with more Cool Whip, chopped nuts or saffron before serving.

TIPS: Do not use hot gelatin water as the rest of the ingredients will change consistency. Make sure to add a little pulp at a time while beating or else the cream cheese will ‘ball’ and leave lumps. Mix the gelatin well with the rest of the ingredients for consistent consistency. If bubbles form while transferring into a serving dish, they will set and look weird (in my opinion – but then, I’m finicky like that!) Pour gently or spoon the mixture into your serving dish and shake out the bubbles if you see them. Garnish only after the pudding has set.

While this looks like a lot of steps, it is surprisingly easy to make and is totally worth the effort. Hope you enjoy this pudding, and leave some feedback on how it turns out.

Easy Microwave Chocolate Barfi

Microwave Chocolate BarfiThis is an easy recipe I got many years ago from a friend’s mom who said she got it from a yoga buddy. My trial batch, in my opinion, was not perfect, and I had no plans of posting it here. Turns out that when I met a few friends and offered them a taste, they all loved it and requested not only to take a few pieces home, but also that I definitely share the recipe. I have slightly tweaked the recipe since then to improve it. Hope you all enjoy these barfis too.

Easy Microwave Chocolate Barfi

(Makes 36 1-inch pieces)

  • 5 cups – Dry instant milk powder (You may substitute a 14oz packet of Milk Mawa Powder that is readily available at most Indian grocers.)
  • 2 cups – Heavy Whipping cream
  • 2 cups – Fine Confectioners Sugar
  • 1/2 cup – Chocolate Chips**
  • 2 Tbsp – Cocoa Powder

1) Line an 8X8 inch pan with parchment or wax paper (click here or here to see how – I don’t even spray or butter my pan). Alternately, generously grease the pan with butter and set aside. (I prefer the parchment paper method as it is sturdy enough to aid in removing the barfis from the pan to cut on a chopping board.)

2) In a microwaveable container that is atleast 2 quarts (8-10 cups) capacity, add the milk powder, cream and sugar, and mix thoroughly.

3) Microwave for 2 minute and stir well.

4) Repeat the microwaving and stirring another 3-4 times in 2 minute intervals (total cook time of 8-10 minutes). The mixture will get foamy and fluffy towards the end, so exercise caution when moving the bowl in and out of the microwave. Cook time will vary because of different microwave power.

5) At around 8 minutes cook time, drop a small ball of the mixture into a bowl of cold water and see if it sets into a relatively firm shape. If it is still soft, microwave an additional minute or two, stirring well and checking the consistency with each additional minute.

6) Pour 2/3 mixture into the pan and quickly smooth the top. Set aside on counter or in the refrigerator to chill and firm up, about 30 minutes.

7) Add the chocolate chips and cocoa powder to the remaining mixture and set aside at room temperature.

8) Once the barfi mixture in the pan is firm, reheat the chocolate mixture at 30 second intervals till it is well mixed and smooth, but do not make it hot or the chocolate mix will sink. Pour over the barfi mixture in the pan. You can spread the chocolate smooth & evenly on top, or drop spoonfuls  in a random designs so that the finished barfis will have an interesting contrast.

9) Cool completely and remove the barfis from the pan by holding the parchment paper. Set on a chopping board and cut into 36 pieces.

 

Dasara (Navratri) celebrations in Mysore, Karnataka

Dasara / Dussehra / Navratri Wishes To All Of You

Navratri or “nine-nights” festival is celebrated in India in late September-early October to honor the many reincarnations of Goddess Durga. In South India, prayers are also offered to Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) and Goddess Saraswathi (the goddess of learning).  Symbolic of the victory of good over evil, it is celebrated differently across India. While the Durga Puja of West Bengal, and the Garba dance of Gujarat are very popular and well known, I wanted to share the details of the spectacular celebrations that go on in the southern city of Mysore, Karnataka. It is called DASARA in Kannada, the regional language.

Durga_Mahishasura-mardini,_the_slayer_of_the_buffalo_demon,_GermanyGoddess Chamundi kills evil Mahishasura (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

Originating in 1610 during the rule of the Wodeyar family, Karnataka will be celebrating Dasara for the 403rd year in 2014. Considered “Nada Habba” or state festival, Dasara (from sanskrit dosha-hara, meaning “defeat of ill-fate”) is also celebrated for nine days and culminates with Vijaya Dashmi “victorious 10th day”. Parades, exhibitions, royal durbar (audience with the king), music, dance, wrestling, prayers, competitions and many more events mark this grand celebration in Mysore. The word Mysore is derived from “Mahishur” or “Mahishasurana Ooru” – meaning ‘the town of Mahishasura’ in Kannada. Mahishasura was a half man-half buffalo demon who prayed to the Gods with such devotion that they allowed him to ask for a boon. When his request for immortality was turned down, he asked that no man would be able to kill him, and – betting that no women would be strong enough to defeat him – that if he had to die, it would be at the hands of a woman. The gods granted him his wish, and Mahishasura, thinking that he was unbeatable, began harassing the people of the world, and even the Gods. Finally, unable to tolerate this tyrant, Lords Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer), along with the other gods channeled their divine energy to create Chamundi (an incarnation of Durga) – a fearless and fiery fighter with thousand arms – each carrying the weapon of a different god, and riding a lion. After a brutal battle, the Goddess was finally able to slay Mahishasura on a hilltop, and good triumphed over evil. The people and the Gods then celebrated this victory for 10 days, calling it Dasara.Mahisasur_Statue_at_Chamundi_Hills

Statue of Mahishasura on top of Chamundi Hills in Mysore, Karnataka (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

Chamundeshwari_Temple_atop_Chamundi_Hills

Chamundeshwari Temple on top of Chamundi Hills (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

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During Dasara, the Mysore Palace is illuminated with 100,000 light bulbs for 10-days. (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

An important tradition of Dasara / Navratri in Karnataka is Bombe Habba or ‘the display of dolls’. According to legend, when the Gods gave all their powers to Chamundi to go fight Mahishasura, they became powerless and stood still like statues. Once the demon was defeated, people commemorated the actions of the Gods by praying to them in the form of dolls. Many houses display the dolls through Dasara on odd-numbered tiered steps built specifically for this purpose. The most important dolls are the Pattada Gombe which symbolise the King and the Queen. They are always made of dark wood, simply designed and decorated with cloth or paper. On the display steps, Gods are placed high, then saints, kings & queens, next any depictions of festivals & celebrations, and finally, portrayals of everyday life. Women invite each other to come over each evening for prayers and aarti, and having the best dolly display is a matter of pride.

elaborate-golu

(Pic: http://housedelic.com/tag/dasara/)

While the first few days of Dasara are a little low key, Saraswathi Pooja is celebrated on the 7th/8th day. Goddess Saraswathi is the Goddess of knowledge & arts. It is customary to place books and musical/art related supplies by her idol and pray for her blessings in mastering those skills.

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(Above) The Late Maharaja Srikanta Datta Narasimharaja Wadiyar performing Saraswathi Pooja.  (Pic: The Hindu)

On Vijayadashmi, the 10th day celebration, the main attraction is the Jamboo Savari (Elephant Parade). One of the many brightly decorated royal elephants is mounted with a 750-kilogram gold mantapa (altar) carrying the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari. After the King & Queen offer their prayers at the palace, the colorful and loud parade moves through the city.

Jumbo_sawari_best

dashara_7

(Pic: http://gujaratirecipesallinone.blogspot.com/2010/10/colours-of-karnataka.html)

Tens of thousands of people line the streets and buildings to watch these regal elephants, horses, camels, musicians, members of the armed services, dancers, acrobats, school children and more march & perform along the way. I have spent many years as a young girl sitting on the sidewalk with relatives, waiting with bated breath for the procession to go by, and can’t wait for a time when I will be able to do it again.

DUSHERA_NEW_1 DSC_0325 dashara13

 Above, performers of traditional art forms of Karnataka participate in the procession. Below, the current Maharani Pramoda Devi of Mysore (center, in pink) and her family watch the festivities from a palace balcony.

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(Pic: http://gujaratirecipesallinone.blogspot.com/2010/10/colours-of-karnataka.html)

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(Pic: http://creative.sulekha.com/mysore-dasara-pageantry-deity-and-piety_609945_blog)

The procession ends at Banni Mantapa Grounds – the site of the sacred Banni tree. Legend has it that Arjuna retrieved his weapons that he had hidden in a hole in this Banni tree before being banished to exile for 14 years. The Pandavas then defeated the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra battle, and returned victorious on Vijayadashmi. Hence, the festival of Ayudha Puja (worshipping of weapons) is celebrated on the 9th day. Current day interpretation has made the festival one where all vehicles and tools are cleaned, decorated, and prayed to for safe and productive usage. Limes are placed under each wheel of the vehicles as sacrifice, and we drive/ride over it till it is squashed. It is not uncommon for businesses to shut down their computers and machinery so that they can be cleaned and prayed to. I remember washing and decorating my bicycle with flowers and balloons when I was a little girl and being so proud of my handiwork.

festivals-ayuda

(Pic: http://www.sangamprojects.com/pictures/festivals/ayudha-puja)

It is unfortunate that on December 10, 2013, Mysore Maharaja Srikanta Datta Narasimharaja Wadiyar passed away at the age of 60. For the first time in hundreds of years, Dasara festivities will be held without a king.

Creamy Guava-Coconut Popsicles

Creamy Guava-Coconut Popsicles

A week into summer break, and I’ve already heard “Mom, can we go to the pool?”, “Mom, can we go get ice-cream?”, and “I’m Bored!!” more times than I can take. I had my 10-year old make a list of all the things he would like to do for fun over the next two months, and making popsicles was one of the first few items. We’re checking off one item on the list each day, and yesterday happened to be the day we pulled out the popsicle molds from the basement. But let me be honest; I foresee many days where screen time is going to be my best friend :).

IMG_0042  (Mom’s ‘not-so-little’ helper)

 

I got this paleta Latin American popsicles that are either cream or juice mixed with fruit – recipe several years ago from my friend Nellie, and had really enjoyed the taste. I meant to share it here earlier, but had misplaced the hand written scrap of paper. After looking everywhere, I found it folded and tucked inside one of my many recipe books and binders. One of my most favorite recipes, these are creamy and just sweet enough. I’ve been inspired to use this basic recipe to substitute other fruits, and will update here once (if) my experiments are successful.

IMG_0043 IMG_0044

 

 

(Guava paste can be found in the Hispanic food section at the grocery store.)

Creamy Guava-Coconut Popsicles

Creamy Guava-Coconut PopsiclesCreamy Guava-Coconut Popsicle

(Makes 15-17 popsicles, about quarter cup each)

  • 1 (15 oz) can coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 (15 oz) can condensed milk
  • 10-12 oz guava paste

1) Chop about a quarter of the guava paste into small pieces and drop into the bottom of the popsicle molds.

2) In a large blender jar, add the coconut milk, cream, milk, cornstarch, condensed milk, & chunks of the remaining guava paste. Blend till well mixed, but not frothy.

3) Pour into the popsicle molds, add handles and freeze for atleast 4-6 hours.

4) To remove popsicles, run the bottom & sides of the mold under warm water for a few seconds and slide the ice cream out.

NOTE : If using dixie cups, place them on a cookie tray or plate and then fill them according to instructions. Freeze on the cookie tray for about an hour. Then insert the popsicle sticks. This will help keep the sticks straight as they freeze for several more hours.

Non-alcoholic Apple-Fennel (Saunf) Spritzer

Apple-Fennel (Saunf) Spritzer

 

I made this to accompany a Saturday lunch party with spicy Indian food because I was tired of serving the same sodas/lemonades/mango lassi to guests who preferred non-alcoholic drinks,  As with most of my recipes, this can be made ahead of time, and mixed quickly when your guests request the drink.

Fennel seeds/saunf has a licorice flavor, and is generally know as the sugar-candy-coated seeds that are placed at the entrance of almost every Indian restaurant. While one of its roles is as a mouth freshener, saunf is also known to help relieve many stomach ailments – colic, constipation, indigestion, flatulence, heartburn. etc.

Original recipe credit to SAVEUR magazine. My version is a little sweeter and has a slightly more pronounced fennel taste.

 

Apple-Fennel (Saunf) Spritzer

(Makes about 1-cup syrup; enough for 6-8 drinks)

FOR THE SYRUP:

  • 2 tbsp. fennel (saunf) seeds – [coarsely ground]
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

1) Add the crushed fennel seeds, water & sugar to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.

2) Cook on medium-low flame for about 5 minutes till slightly thick, about 5 minutes.

3) Remove from heat and let the mixture rest till it reaches room temperature.

4) Strain into an airtight container or a pretty glass bottle. If not using right away, this mixture can be stored in the refrigerator (tightly sealed) for up to  1 month.

TO SERVE THE DRINK: (per person)-

  • 2-3 Tbsp fennel syrup
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup club soda
  • Thin apple slices for garnish
  • Ice

1) Mix all ingredients above in a tall glass and add ice. Garnish with apple slices and serve.