November 30, 2011

Semiya (Vermicelli) Payasam

Payasam (also called as kheer) is a sweet dish / dessert. The term "Payasam" is a Sanskrit word meaning nectar and is derived from "Peeyusham" which is also called "Amrutham". This is also one of the traditional dishes that is compulsorily present in all south Indian function/festival menus. Payasam can based of either sugar or jaggery. Main ingredients of a payasam can be one of these - Dal, rice, poha (aval), vermicelli, wheat flour etc.,

The payasam that I prepared today is cooked with vermicelli & sugar. Actually, when I think of semiya payasam, I remember my mom preparing it every year on my birthday. I used to like this payasam very much when I was young, and so, it became a kind of tradition to prepare this on my birthday. So, I am kind of sentimentally attached to this payasam.

Vermicelli - a handful
Ghee (clarified butter) - 1 teaspoon
Milk - 2-3 cups
Cardamom powder - 2 pinches
Sugar - as required
Cashews - 8-10 nos (broken)
Ghee - To roast the cashews.

Roast vermicelli in ghee until brown in a thick bottomed vessel. Take care not to burn the vermicelli.

Once roasted, add some water and bring it to a boil. After vermicelli turns soft, add sugar and as soon as the sugar completely dissolves, remove from heat. Now, add required boiled milk & cardamom powder to the vermicelli. Roast cashews in ghee and add it to the payasam.

Payasam can be served hot / cold.

  • You can use whole milk to enhance the flavor & it also helps to get a thicker consistency.
  • You can also add roasted raisins (roast raisins in ghee until plump) along with cashews.
  • Instead of vermicelli, you can also use roasted poha (aval in Tamil).
  • Make sure to roast the vermicelli in ghee as the first step in the process (even if you buy toasted vermicelli directly from the store). I remember skipping this step once and payasam turned out to be mushy. It didn 't taste right. Also, vermicelli took longer time to cook.

Paruppu Vadai a.k.a Aamai Vadai

Vadai is a deep fried delicacy that's crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. No marriage / festival is considered complete without vadai. Paruppu vadai & Ulundu vadai are the two most common vadai made during any south Indian festivals/functions.

Sometimes, my mom dunks aamai vadai into piping hot tomato rasam as soon as it comes out of the oil. Later, we mix this soaked goodness with plain rice, little ghee and with mor-kuzhambu on the side - mmmmm... simply delicious! Just try out this combo & taste it for yourself!

Did you know?
Vadai got the name "aamai vadai" for its shape and texture, for 'aamai' in tamil means tortoise.

Channa dal - 1 cup
Urad dal - 1 tbsp
Toor dal - 1 tbsp
Red chillies - 4 nos
Green chillies - 1 no
Curry leaves - 2 sprigs
Hing - 1/2 tsp
Salt - to taste
Oil - for Frying

Wash and soak all the dals together in water for atleast an hour. More the soaking, softer the vadai. Drain all the water and add rest of the ingredients to grind them into thick & slightly coarser batter. Use as little water as possible.

Heat oil in a frying pan. Take about a half handful of dough and flatten it on your left palm and then, gently transfer the batter into oil. You can also use a plastic sheet / plantain leaf to make this vadai and then transfer the batter into oil.

Cook on medium heat so that inside of the vadai also gets cooked properly.

- Do not grind the dough very smooth - it is okay if few of the dals remains unground, as it will give a crunchy texture to the vadai.
- You can add finely chopped onions & a tsp of fennel seeds to make it "masal" vadai. Find the recipe here.

Potato Curry

Potato curry is something that my hubby & my daughter would love to see in everyday 's menu. Potato can be cooked in a couple of ways - boil them & cook with spices (OR) cut potatoes into small cubes and cook it as potato roast. Since, I was hurrying to finish cooking the lunch today, I decided to take the easier route - to boil potatoes, peel them and saute them with spices as curry. Any given day, I would prefer potato curry over potato roast for 2 reasons - ease of preparation & the former requires little oil compared to the latter.

Speaking of potato curry I am reminded of my childhood days. We call it "Pesanja curry" (mashed curry) at home and myself & my brother are suckers for our mom 's relish.

Medium sized potatoes - Boiled, peeled & cut into small pieces - 6 - 8 nos
(I always mash potatoes into small pieces with my hand)
Hing - 1/2 teaspoon
Turmeric powder - a pinch
Red chilli powder - 1 teaspoon (use according to your spice level)
Salt - to taste

Oil - a little
Mustard seeds - 1/2 teaspoon
Split urad dal - 1/2 teaspoon

Take a little oil in a pan. After the oil is heated, add potatoes, turmeric powder, chilli powder, hing, salt to it. Saute until the raw smell of turmeric & chilli powder goes and remove from heat.

Add mustard seeds to little oil and let it splutter. Then, add urad dal and roast it until brown. Add them to the potato curry.

Onion Sambar

Deciding the lunch menu everyday is a big task as I have to find a common ground - recipes that all three of us like. Today, being my daughter 's star birthday, I decided to cook items that she likes the most.  So, I finalized the menu to be onion sambar, potato curry, vermicelli payasam, aamai vadai.

  • Peeled small onions (Shallots) - 25 nos
  • Tamarind juice from lemon sized tamarind - 5-6 cups
  • Toor dal - pressure cooked & mashed - 1 cup
  • Mustard seeds - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Sambar powder - as required (My family likes it spicy, so I added 2 teaspoons)
  • Salt - to taste
  • Curry leaves - few
  • Rice flour - very little
Roast & grind
  • Red chillies - 4 nos
  • Fenugreek seeds - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Channa dal - 1 tablespoon
  • Coriander seeds - 1 tablespoon
  • Raw coconut - 1/2 tablespoon

Roast all of the above except coconut in a pan with little oil and grind it along with the fresh coconut. Taste of the sambar changes, if the coconut is also roasted. Mix the ground masala & cooked dal into a paste with little water. Take care not to add too much of water, as consistency of the sambar will be very watery.

Heat oil in a pan/vessel. Add mustard seeds and let it splutter. Add peeled onions and saute it for a while - until it becomes soft.

Add tamarind water followed by sambar powder, salt to the sauted onions and allow it to boil until the raw smell of tamarind goes. Now, add the masala & dal paste to the sambar and bring it to a boil.

Add curry leaves & piping hot sambar is ready to serve.

Tip: If the sambar is watery, mix little water to the rice flour without any lumps and add it to the sambar and bring it to a boil. Do this as the last step before you remove the vessel from the stove. But remember, adding too much of rice flour also changes the taste of the sambar. 

Serve onion sambar with hot rice. This sambar also goes well with idli / dosa. 

November 28, 2011

Keerai Vadai

Vadai is a crispy, savory, deep fried doughnut. Coconut chutney / sambar serves as a perfect side dish. Having brought up in a Tamil Brahmin family, I have seen my mom preparing vadai for every occasion / festival. Even restaurants serve vadai as breakfast, appetizer, evening snacks etc., Kids simply loves vadai - afterall, who doesn't like deep fried items.

Vadai is very challenging when it comes to shape / softness / crispiness. For urad dal vadai, consistency of the batter is the key. If the batter is watery, vadai will get too soggy/oily after frying. If its consistency is thick, vadai comes out very hard.

Last week, since I had some idli batter left at home, I decided to make idli, vadai and onion sambar for the side. My kid likes idli and my hubby likes idli with onion sambar. And, both of them love vadai. Since, there was no veggie of any sort for lunch, I decided to make keerai vadai (vadai with spinach).

My daughter usually creates a big fuss to eat spinach when I prepare keerai masiyal, where as she seemed to enjoy keerai vadai. This is what she said, when I asked her the reason - "Yenna vadai-la dhaaney keerai 'moru moru'-nu nanna irukku" (because spinach is crunchy only in vadai and not in kootu).

Basic Info
Complexity - Medium
Prep time - 3-4 hrs (includes soaking)
Cook time - 30 mins
Serves - 12 - 14 nos

Urad dal - 1 cup
Green chillies - 2 nos
Red chillies - 2 nos
Hing - 1/4 teaspoon
Spinach - 1 cup (packed, finely chopped)
Curry leaves - 6-8 nos
Salt - 1 tsp
Water - 1/4 - 1/3 cup
Oil - for frying

Wash well and soak urad dal for atleast couple of hours or until it doubles in quantity. Drain the water completely. Add the rest of the ingredients to urid dal, except spinach and oil. Consistency is the key. So, grind in small intervals by sprinkling water little by little. Grind into smooth & fluffy batter using a mixer/grinder (grinder always gives best results). Add spinach to the batter and mix well.

Heat oil, on a medium heat, in a kadai or a deep pan. Oil should be atleast 1" deep. Start making vada's only when oil is at the right temperature. Test by dropping little batter in the oil and the batter should right away come to the top without changing its color.

Have a bowl of water alongside the batter. Water helps in easier handling of the batter.

Dampen your left palm & right-hand fingers in water. Take about a small ball of batter and flatten it in your left palm and make a small hole in the center of the flattened batter.

Turn the left hand over your right hand fingers and gently transfer the batter to your right-hand and then, drop it into oil.

Fry until golden brown and remove from oil. Do not turn the heat to high, as inside of the vadai may not cook properly.

  • You can also use plastic sheet / plantain leaf to make vadai and then transfer the batter into oil. Make sure to dampen your fingers/plastic sheet/plantain leaf everytime before you make vadai. If you are not able to make a donut shape, just drop it in any shape.
  • Oil will be very hot. So, be watchful of your fingers while dropping vadai into oil.